It took two days and two trips to Lonoke, but the Heber Springs Panthers were finally able to claim a victory.
Lightning forced the postponement of the game on Friday night with Lonoke leading 14-7 with 11:14 to play in the third quarter. When play was resumed at 2 p.m. Saturday in a heavy downpour, Heber Springs scored 21 unanswered in the third quarter and the defense held on in the fourth as the Panthers claimed a 28-14 the win.
More importantly for coach Darren Gowen’s squad, the Panthers first win came in the 4A-2 conference opener for both schools.
The Panthers have only one non-conference victory in the past three seasons, but Heber Springs bounced back and has won a share of the 4A-2 conference crown each of the past two seasons.
“We are 1-0 in conference,” Gowen said after the win on Saturday. “I know I get a lot of flack for this, and non-conference games do matter, but they get us ready to play games like this (conference games).”
Blaze Nelson finished the game with 75 yards rushing and two touchdowns while Adam Martin added 55 yards on the ground and another score.
Heber Springs (1-3, 1-0) finished with 246 yards of total offense in the contest while Lonoke (1-3, 0-1) had 199. But in the third quarter, the Panthers held the Jackrabbits to minus-6 rushing yards on 16 attempts, and 16 rushing yards on 24 attempts in the second half.
“The defense made some adjustments at halftime, and a little bit overnight, and they played lights out,” Gowen said. “Dalton Hall really got after it, and Fate (Berry) and Julio (Rubio) were the three without watching any film that really stood out to me.”
Heber Springs will return to Panther Stadium Friday night at 7 p.m. when they face conference favorite Stuttgart. The Ricebirds defeated Southside Batesville, 35-15, Friday night.
SLOW START
After Lonoke recovered the Panthers onside-kick attempt on their own 42, it didn’t take long for the Jackrabbits to hop into the endzone. On the first play from scrimmage, Lonoke quarterback Braidon Bryant took the ball on a keeper, got a couple of good blocks downfield and raced untouched 58 yards to give Lonoke at 7-0 advantage just 12 seconds into the contest.
Disaster struck for Heber Springs on the ensuing kickoff as Lonoke attempted and recovered an onside kick at the Panther 44.
“I thought we came out a little flat on Friday night,” Gowen said. “I don’t know anything sometimes. I told my guys Friday, we need to stay in as much routine as possible.
“We get here and play flat, and then today (Saturday) there is no routine … we come out and play like that. I guess routine doesn’t matter as much anymore like it used to back when I was playing.”
RUBIO FORCES FUMBLE
The Jackrabbits had reached the Panther 36 before Rubio forced a fumble that Hall recovered for Heber Springs at the 9:22 mark of the first quarter to give the Panthers their first possession of the contest.
After relying on the running game for the most part during the non conference, the Panthers first possession was nothing but the hurry-up passing game. Adam Martin connected with Matthew Cook on an 11-yard pass completion after three Lonoke defenders tipped the ball into Cook’s arms. That play moved the ball into Jackrabbit territory at the 43.
A 12-yard pass completion from Martin to Seth Dickinson was good enough for anther Panther first down at the Lonoke 24.
The drive appeared to stall at the Lonoke 18 on fourth down after false penalty cost the Heber Springs five yards on a fourth-and-4 play attempt. But on the next play, Martin found Cook up the middle for the 23-yard scoring strike. Julian Cameron’s PAT kick made it 7-7 with 6:58 to play in the quarter.
COSTLY TURNOVER
The team traded possessions before Lonoke recovered a Panther fumble at the Heber Springs 22 late in the quarter. Three plays later, and on the first play of the second quarter, Davante Adams rushed 11 yards to give the Jackrabbits a 14-7 advantage.
SCORING CHANCE
The teams again traded possession before the Panther defense forced Lonoke to a three-and-out from their own 10. A 25-yard punt gave Heber Springs excellent field position at the Jackrabbit 35 with 2:37 left in the half.
On third-and-5, Rocky Finney carried for 10-yard gain on an end-around play, but the drive fizzled at the Lonoke 20 forcing a 37-yard field-goal attempt by Cameron with 38 seconds left in the half. Cameron’s kick sailed right and the Jackrabbits killed the clock to end the half.
BREWING STORM
The forecasters had called for rain on Friday and all weekend, and though the radar was ominous in the first half the rain held off for the most part. At halftime, lightning could be seen at a distance after both bands performed, but it was not close enough (10 miles within the stadium) to stop the start of the second half.
So the third quarter kicked off with the Panthers recovering the onside-kick attempt on their own 48. After a seven-yard run by Nelson, Martin connected with Finney on an apparent 30-yard pass completion, but an illegal-man downfield penalty wiped out the completion and the gain. However, Finney was hit out of bounds giving the Panthers a first-and-10 from the Lonoke 35 with 11:14 to play in the third.
A lightning strike was close enough after that play to suspend the game as Lonoke headed to its lockerroom and the Panthers to a safe room in the school. The rain soon followed as the game continued to be delayed for just over an hour.
Finally, officials, coaches and administrators met at midfield after attempting to re-start the game and determined to postpone it until Saturday.
For Gowen, he wanted to continue to play, “I thought we had the momentum and we were fixing to do this (on Saturday).”
DOING THIS
For the first time in school history, the Panthers played in a game that was started on one day and finished on the next.
Play resumed on Saturday at 2 p.m. in a heavy downpour with the Panthers taking over on the Lonoke 35. A first-down run by Martin for 10 yards on the third play was followed by a 15-yard run by Nelson to push the ball to the Lonoke 5. From there, Martin carried it over with 8:29 left in the quarter to tie things up at 14-all.
“Just proud that we continued that momentum (from Friday night),” McGowan said. “I could tell in the locker room just sitting around waiting that they were ready to go play, and they were excited.
“We came out just about 20 minutes before the game started and the energy was just incredible.”
KEEPING IT GOING
The two teams traded possessions before Lonoke took over on its own 22 with 5:39 to play in the third quarter. After Adams carried for a two-yard gain, Nelson forced a fumble and the Panthers recovered it on the 24.
On the first play, Nelson ran into a pile of Lonoke defenders spun free and raced 24 yards to give Heber Springs its first lead of the game at 21-14.
“When you’ve got a back like Blaze, you (offensive line) just have to get in their way in a little bit and he’s going to make things happen,” Gowen said. “Our offensive line does a good job of continuing their blocks, and he just stays there and keeps moving.
“He’s got such great vision. He just spins off it and uses his incredible speed.”
HIGH SNAP
The Panther defense forced at three-and-out on the Lonoke ensuing possession before Heber Springs caught another break in the driving rain. A high snap on the punt attempt from the Lonoke 24 was recovered by the punter, but the Panthers were in business again from the Jackrabbit 9.
Two players later, Martin walked into the end zone untouched with 3:31 to play in the third quarter. Julian Cameron added the PAT kick and the Panthers led 28-14.
“Adam did a great job holding and Julian kicking in these conditions,” Gowen said. “We were three-for-three on extra points in this nasty weather, and one of those was almost off the ground and he still made it. That’s an awesome weapon to have.”
HOLDING ON
The Panther offense took advantage of opportunities in the third quarter to scored 21 unanswered points.
But after that, it was the Panther defense that held Lonoke out of the end zone.
Lonoke had moved to the Panther 36 late in the third quarter before Rubio sacked Bryant for a 13-yard loss on third down forcing a punt.
After a Panther turnover on the ensuing play gave the Jackrabbits the ball at the Panther 29, the defense again rose to the occasion forcing a turnover on downs highlighted by Berry and Cook bringing down Bryant for a five-yard loss on a third-and-5 play.
Heber Springs went three-and-out before Lonoke marched from their own 30 the Panther 24, thanks in part to a 30-yard pass completion from Dayton Smith to Shawn Lake. But a fourth-down pass attempt by Smith was broken up by Berry giving the Panthers the ball back with 5:03 to play.
Hall carried the ball for Heber Springs as the Panthers moved from their own 24 to the 48, but the drive would stall forcing a Martin punt.
BIG PICK
After a Lonoke moved into Panther territory with 1:22 to play, Smith heaved a pass into the end zone that Landon Johnson took away from the receiver to come up with the interception. The interception preserved the Panthers 14-win, giving Heber Springs 13 conference points (points used to determine tie-breakers in postseason seeding).
“I don’t know if you would call that a pick or whatever, because he just took the ball away as he was coming down,” Gowen said, “so that was a great job. “
BY THE NUMBERS
TEAM
First Downs: Heber Springs 12, Lonoke 12
Third-Down Percentage: Heber Springs 4-14, Lonoke 1-12
Fourth-Down Percentage: Heber Springs 1-2, Lonoke 1-4
Rushing Att-Yards-Avg: Heber Springs 40-154-3.9; Lonoke 43-136-3.2
Passing Comp-Att-Yards-Int: Heber Springs 10-20-92-0; Lonoke 5-12-76-1
Total Offense: Heber Springs 246, Lonoke 199
Sacks-Yards: Heber Springs 1-13, Lonoke 0-0
Penalties-Yards: Heber Springs 6-55, Lonoke 7-55
Fumbles-Lost: Heber Springs 3-2, Lonoke 3-2
Punts-Avg: Heber Springs 6-31, Lonoke 6-28.7
INDIVIDUAL
Rushing: Heber Springs – Blaze Nelson 23-75-2, Adam Martin 10-55-1, Dalton Hall 4-24, Team 2-(-10), Rocky Finney 1-10. Lonoke – Davante Adams 19-36-1, Anthony Parks 10-18, Braidon Bryant 9-81-1, Dayton Smith 2-1, Shawn Lake 1-10, Brayden Coble 1-8, Team 1-(-15).
Passing: Heber Springs – Adam Martin 10-20-92-1-0. Lonoke – Braidon Bryant 3-6-27-0-0, Dayton Smith 2-6-49-0-1.
Receiving: Heber Springs – Matthew Cook 2-38-1, Tri Johnson 2-20, Seth Dickeson 2-16, Rocky Finney 2-9, Blaze Nelson 2-9. Lonoke – Davonta Adams 2-12, Shawn Lake 1-28, Dalton Smith 1-21, Anthony Parks 1-15.
Total Offense: Heber Springs – Adam Martin 147, Blaze Nelson 84, Matthew Cook 38, Dalton Hall 24, Tri Johnson 20, Rocky Finney 19, Seth Dickeson 16, Team (-10). Lonoke – Braidon Bryant 108, Dayton Smith 50, Davante Adams 48, Shawn Lake 38, Anthony Parks 33, Dalton Smith 21, Brayden Coble 8, Team (-15).