Labeled the biggest game of the season thus far, the Heber Springs Panthers lived up to expectations and defeated rival Southside 17-14 in a must-win showdown on homecoming Friday night at Panther Stadium. A series of clutch plays on both sides of the ball led the Panthers to the victory, including a blocked punt from Clay Feemster that set up a touchdown run for sophomore Adam Martin on a quarterback keep, and two huge fourth quarter interceptions that both ended up in the hands of senior Jacob Bremmon.
The Southerners received the opening kickoff and marched forward to the 25-yard line, but would turn the ball over after junior quarterback Koby Rich threw an interception that would turn into a 33-yard field goal for Heber Springs junior kicker Julian Cameron, giving the Panthers an early 3-0 lead. Southside would strike right back however after junior running back Brayden Duncan reeled off an 83-yard touchdown run on the first play of the drive that put the Southerners on top 7-3 with 7:30 to go in the first quarter.
The Panthers retook the lead in the second session of play after sophomore quarterback Adam Martin found senior Chris Hart on a 20-yard pass on third and twenty-one before connecting with junior receiver Rocky Finney on two passes, the first for 17 yards and the second for 24 yards and a touchdown on third and nine, gaining the lead back at 10-7 midway through the quarter. Southside used a balanced running game to reach the end zone again as Rich (17 yards) and Duncan (16 yards) rushed the ball to the 5-yard line before getting pushed back to the twelve. Facing third and goal, sophomore quarterback Braden Jones found a wide-open Rich for a touchdown just before the half for a 14-10 advantage.
Senior Dawson Cook intercepted a pass from Martin to begin the second half of play, but the Southerner offense would have to punt after an illegal block in the back pushed the ball back ten yards and senior Dawson Blevins was brought down, bringing up fourth and twenty-three. Heber’s next drive saw Martin hit junior Blaze Nelson with a 13-yard pass before threading the needle to Hart for a 25-yard completion. Field position for the Panthers improved after a Southside personal foul moved the offense to the 26-yard line, but failure to reach the end zone resulted in a 44-yard field goal attempt for kicker Julian Cameron, whose kick missed with 3:09left in the quarter.
An illegal procedure penalty and a quarterback sack from Hart on Rich set up fourth and thirteen for the Southerners led to a blocked punt by Clay Feemster that gave the Panthers excellent field position at the sixteen, with Martin rushing 13 yards on a quarterback keep with fourteen seconds to go to put Heber back in front 17-14. A 15-yard pass interference penalty on the Panthers put Southside at the fourteen before an illegal procedure penalty pushed the offense back five yards, with Duncan rushing for three and Rich recovering a fumble for third and nineteen. Senior Jacob Bremmon came through with an interception to give the ball back to Heber on the next play, draining a little over a minute off the clock before punting.
Sophomore linebacker Fate Berry came up big after his tackle brought up third and eighteen, with Berry batting down a Rich pass to set up fourth and eighteen. The Panthers struggled to reach first down on the ensuing drive after Bremmon was brought down for a three-yard loss and Martin was tackled twice, leading to a punt. With the ball on their own 35-yard line, Southside moved past midfield after Duncan hauled in a 26-yard pass from Rich, who was sacked by Nelson two consecutive times and picked off by Bremmon for the second time in the quarter. Martin would kneel three times to run the clock out on the Panthers’ biggest win of the season, their third victory in a row and fifth in six games.
“Incredible effort,” said Panther head coach Darren Gowen. “I told the guys we would have to grind it out. The most points Southside had given up in a game was fourteen and I told them we would have to be satisfied with not punting the football when we had to. Adam [Martin] was smart with the ball. He scored a touchdown on a great throw to Rocky and Julian Cameron knocked in a big field goal That’s the second time he’s been the difference maker for us. It was just a great night overall and I think the defense played their best game of the year. Clay [Feemster] had his best career game as a Panther especially after blocking that punt. A total team effort all around. Hats off to Southside, they are a great team.”
“I’m just really excited we came out and played well tonight,” said Bremmon, whose two interceptions helped keep the Panther offense on the field and run the clock down. “All week we talked about doing some trick plays, and I had to stay back and do my job and when I saw them throw over me and I picked the ball off I was just so excited to do it for my team and help us get the win.”
Martin completed 11 of 18 passes for 131 yards and one touchdown, rushing for 32 yards and the other Heber touchdown. Finney caught three passes for 44 yards and a touchdown as Hart caught two passes for 48 yards. Cameron went two for two on extra point attempts and one for two on field goal attempts. “We have our work cut out for us the next two weeks so we are going to enjoy this one for the weekend,” exclaimed Gowen. Heber (5-3, 4-1) hosts the Riverview Raiders (6-2, 3-2) in their home finale Friday night, as the Panther seniors will be recognized in their final home game.