Facing a 13-6 halftime deficit, the Heber Springs Panthers put together a 24-0 second half run to win 31-28 in the final seconds Friday night at Panther Stadium over Central Arkansas Christian despite the Mustangs answering back with a late 15-0 run of their own.
The Mustangs struck first after sophomore linebacker Gentry Miller picked off a pass from sophomore quarterback Adam Martin, leading to junior running back/quarterback Blake Smith finding the end zone on a run for a quick 7-0 lead just 1:16 into the contest. Heber bounced back on their next possession, with Martin racking up two consecutive completions totaling 51 yards, as junior running back Blaze Nelson punched in a score from seven yards out to tie the game at 7-7.
With CAC facing a third and 23 situation, Smith found junior Garrett Overstreet for a twenty-yard completion, bringing up fourth and three on the thirteen-yard line, getting an eight-yard run from Smith to bring up first and goal at the five. The Panther defense stood their ground to start the second quarter of play, pushing the Mustangs back to another third and long standstill, with senior Jacob Bremmon getting a huge hit on Rhett James to push the drive to fourth and short. Senior defensive end Chris Hart forced a turnover for the CAC offense after getting to the quarterback Smith and bringing him down.
Martin threw his second interception of the game after junior Seth Crews stepped up for the catch, but Smith threw an interception himself just two plays into the possession, this one finding the hands of sophomore defensive back Tri Johnson. After a quick three and out, the Mustangs got another score to end the first half after James reached the end zone on a rush with just 2:05 remaining, with the extra point failing to set the score at 13-6.
The Panthers lit a fire to start the second half, racking up three straight first downs before Nelson ran 25 yards for his second touchdown of the night, with junior kicker Julian Cameron giving Heber the lead at 14-13 after kicking the extra point attempt through the uprights with 5:46 left in the quarter. Less thantwo minutes later, Bremmon came through with an interception and rushed the ball to the 26-yard line to give the Panther offense excellent field position. Nelson scored for the second time in two minutes to extend the lead to 21-13.
The final twelve minutes of action began with CAC getting pushed to the backfield at the 47 after Hart sacked the quarterback for a second time, followed by a delay of game penalty for five yards to bring up third and 22, eventually turning the ball over on downs as Martin would get his first touchdown pass after linking up with receiver Rocky Finney for a 61-yard completion to give Heber a 28-13 advantage. Bremmon added a second interception to bring the offense right back out onto the field, as Cameron knocked in a field goal with 3:25 to go for a 31-13 lead.
Junior Krishaun Watson ended the dry spell for the Mustangs after taking an 81-yard rush straight to the house, cutting into the lead at 31-20 with two minutes left. Looking to get the ball back, CAC successfully recovered an onside kick after Crews jumped on the pigskin to give the offense another chance to score. Crews would rush for 14 yards on a sweep play on fourth and two to bring up a fresh set of downs, adding another touchdown as Miller reached the end zone with 50 seconds left, completing a two-point conversion to pull within a field goal at 31-28. Lining up for another onside kick, the Mustangs were able to get the ball back once again after Crews jumped on another loose ball for a chance to tie or win the game.
Heber’s defense stepped to the plate and came up in the clutch once again, as senior Clay Feemster sacked quarterback Eli Garrison for a loss of thirteen and Hart got to Garrison for his third sack of the contest to bring up fourth and thirty-five. With time ticking down, Garrison ran on a quarterback keep but was brought down as the clock ran out on a thrilling Panther victory, with the team moving to an even 3-3 overall and 2-1 in the 4A-2 Conference. Martin finished with 144 yards on 8 of 18 passing with one touchdown, also rushing for 39 yards. Nelson ran for 101 yards on 11 carries. Finney reeled in four catches for 123 yards and a touchdown and Cameron finished three for three on extra point attempts and one for one on field goal attempts.
“A win is a win,” stated Heber Springs head coach Darren Gowen. “Very disappointed in how we came out to play to start the game. We came out better in the second half and I thought we dominated in the third quarter. I settled for a field goal when we should’ve punched it in to put the game away, but we gave some guys some extra time to play and they didn’t give up. There was some big plays and a couple onside kicks that made the game interesting.”
The field goal from Cameron turned out to be the difference maker in the outcome of the game. “It’s good it worked out that way because we wanted to make sure and score on that drive. We are proud we have a guy who can go out there and can knock down attempts from wherever we are at and I have one hundred percent confidence in what Julian is going to do. Disappointing in how we ended the game, but a win is a win, especially considering it was a conference win.”
The Panthers will travel to the state capital Friday to continue their conference slate against a winless Baptist Prep team that suffered a 40-14 loss at Panther Stadium the last time these two teams squared off. Heber stands one game back from the Southside Southerners, who are alone at the top of the conference standings at 3-0.