Heber Springs defeated Newport 26-22 on Thursday night at Panther Stadium, improving to 3-1 in 2-4A Conference play, as eighth-grade running back Andrew Engle carried 21 times for 175 yards and two touchdowns while freshman quarterback Pierce Mitchum ran for a score and passed for another.
The Junior Panthers (4-2, 3-1) have won three straight following a 1-2 start. “I am pumped,” said Heber Coach Caleb Shock. “I am very excited. I thought this was the best we have executed in all phases of the game so far this season. That is a huge testament to the guys and their willingness to come to practice every day and get better. It showed out here on the field. Awesome win for the guys.”
Heber opened the game with an 8-play, 65-yard scoring drive sparked by Mitchum, who kept around right end, turned the corner and burst down the sideline for 27 yards to the Newport 26.
Three plays later, on third and 6, Mitchum sped untouched around right end for a 10-yard touchdown. Newport's Greypups stuffed Engle on the two-point conversion, leaving Heber's lead at 6-0 with 4:28 left in the first quarter.
Defensive lineman Luke McGowan recorded two tackles for a net loss of five yards as the Jr. Panthers forced a turnover on downs on Newport's first possession.
But, Heber failed to take advantage of the field position and Newport tied the game early in the second quarter when running back Julian Reed plowed over a defender up the middle and raced down the left sideline for a 66-yard touchdown.
Heber's interior line stopped Newport quarterback Tydrell Friar on the two-point attempt, keeping the game tied at 6-6 with 7:48 remaining in the second quarter.
The Jr. Panthers countered with a 6-play, 71-yard scoring drive that started with a 32-yard run by Engle, who shed a defender near the line of scrimmage and dodged another tackler in the secondary before being corralled at the Newport 38.
After Engle ripped off a 17-yard run, Mitchum and Engle each carried for five yards, which set up a 10-yard touchdown pass by Mitchum, who floated the ball to the back left corner, where Justin Feemster hauled in a leaping grab with a defender providing tight coverage. Mitchum's two-point conversion pass fell incomplete, leaving the Jr. Panthers' lead at 12-6 with 5:51 left in the second quarter.
Newport chewed up the remainder of the first half clock by methodically driving 60 yards to the Heber 5, where the Jr. Panthers came up with a stop on fourth and short when Friar's pass fell incomplete.
Newport took the lead on its first drive of the third quarter. Facing a fourth and 5, Friar bobbled the snap and came under heavy pressure before flinging a pass out to Reed, who turned up field and down the right sideline, turning a busted play into a 60-yard touchdown.
Page 2 of 3 - The Jr. Greypups inserted offensive lineman Darrell Hardiman at fullback and he powered over left guard for two more points on the conversion, giving Newport a 14-12 lead with 6:05 left in the third quarter.
Heber's ensuing drive appeared promising but stalled out on a first down fumble, which Trevone Peel recovered at the Jr. Greypup 20.
The Jr. Panthers forced a three and out and regained the lead by marching 62 yards in five plays. Heber reached Newport territory on a shifty 9-yard run by Engle, plus a 2-yard keeper from Mitchum.
On first and 10, Mitchum rolled left and found receiver Caleb Lanclos, who turned up the sideline for 35 yards to the Newport 13. Two plays later Engle sped through a gaping hole over right side, eluded a defender with a sharp cutback and dove into the end zone to complete a 10-yard touchdown run.
Newport stopped Engle on the conversion attempt, leaving Heber's lead at 18-14 with 14 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Heber forced a three and out and got right back to work, this time covering 71 yards in five plays, starting with runs of 18, 19 and 12 yards by Engle, who used speed, elusiveness and power to churn out running room after initial contact.
On second and 5, Engle capped the drive by carrying a sweep around left end, turning the corner and diving over the pylon for a 17-yard touchdown with 5:28 left in the fourth quarter.
“You can't coach any of that,” said Shock of Engle's running style. “We just give him the ball and tell him where to go. Some of those cuts that he makes … God has blessed him with some unbelievable field vision and some great balance and it shows. He did a great job.”
Mitchum rolled left and found Feemster, who survived a violent collision to complete the two-point conversion as Heber took a commanding 26-14 lead.
The Jr. Panthers essentially sealed the game on Newport's ensuing possession when defensive back Joey Tankersley intercepted a pass over the middle.
Heber turned to its reserves for the remainder of the game and the Jr. Greypups continued to play their first unit and scored when Reed carried a direct snap around left end for a 7-yard touchdown with 19.7 seconds left in the game. Reed, who remained at quarterback for the conversion attempt, found tight end Jackson Rounds in the end zone for two more points.
Jeffery Shauver recovered Newport's onside kick attempt to thwart any last second comeback hopes.
Following Engle's 175 yards and two touchdowns, Mitchum rushed nine times for 74 yards and a touchdown while completing 5 of 10 pass attempts for 89 yards and another score.
The Jr. Panthers' offensive line wore down Newport in the second half. “Those guys are really starting to come on as a unit,” said Shock. “They are starting to take some pride, 'Saying run it behind me coach' and when that happens it's special for a football team.”
Page 3 of 3 - Reed led Newport (1-5, 1-3), which beat Dollarway for its lone victory, with 163 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. Reed also had a 60-yard touchdown reception to finish with 223 total yards and three scores.
Heber visits Southside Batesville on Thursday at 7 p.m.