Heber Springs trailed by 16 or more points three different times in the third quarter, but it took Stuttgart killing the final 4:19 of the contest to hold off the Panthers and claim a 36-33 4A-2 victory Friday night at Panther Stadium.
Heber Springs trailed, 36-19, when Dalton Hall broke free for a 44-yard touchdown run with 27.5 seconds left to play in the third quarter to make it 36-26.
After the Panther defense stopped the Ricebirds on a fourth-and-9 play on the Heber Springs 11 with 9:59 to play, Heber Springs would pull to within a field goal on an Adam Martin 10-yard touchdown run with 4:19 to go.
But Stuttgart (3-1, 2-0), picked up three first downs on its ensuing possession to kill the clock and preserve the victory.
“I couldn’t be more proud of how they played,” Heber Springs coach Darren Gowen said of his team. “We made mistake after mistake, but we played so hard that we could make up for it.
“The offense played awful in the first half and that’s my fault. I didn’t get them ready to go. But in the second half, we made a few adjustments, the defense kept us in the game and we just didn’t do quite enough to get it done.”
The Panthers rushed for 221 yards on 35 attempts led Blaze Nelson’s 116 yards on 20 carries. Nelson finished with two touchdowns along with Martin, while Hall added another score to go with 54 yards on the ground.
Stuttgart’s David Walker did most of the damage for the Ricebirds. The senior finished with 111 yards rushing on 17 carries with three touchdowns and also added 96 yards on four receptions.
“He is a difference maker,” Gowen said of Walker. “A guy that can run like that, jump over people, at 240 pounds that just tough. Our young men, they just look so small compared to him but they just got after him all night long.”
Heber Springs fell to 1-4 overall with the loss and 1-1 in the conference. The Panthers will look to bounce back on Friday when they travel to Mustang Mountain in North Little Rock to tangle with Central Arkansas Christian. The Mustangs are 2-0 in conference play, joining Stuttgart as the only two remaining teams unbeaten in the 4A-2.
“We came up short, but we got after it, and that’s all I can ask them to do,” Gowen said. “We still have a lot of football left to go. We’ll get back to work and go see what we can do.”
It didn’t take long for Stuttgart to get on the board. The Ricebirds took the opening kickoff and moved the ball from their own 37 and jumped out on top, 7-0, with 9:26 left to playing in the opening quarter. A big two-play sequence did in the Panthers on the drive. On third-and-9 from the Heber Springs 47, Stuttgart quarterback Tim Johnson connected with Davion Grayham to push the ball to the Panther 24. On the next play, a personal foul penalty against the Panthers moved the ball to the Heber Springs 13 where Walker would take the next two carries before powering his way from the 1 to score.
On Heber Springs’ first possession of the contest, Nelson carried 12 yards to give the Panthers a first down. Three plays later, the Panthers picked up another first down on a third-and-4 play, but a fumble gave the ball back to the Ricebirds with 6:34 to play in the first quarter.
But the Panther defense stiffened, forcing a three-and-out and a Stuttgart punt from its own 45. Walker got off a nice kick for the Ricebirds and got a friendly roll. When it the ball finally stopped, it was on the Heber Springs 5.
On the first play from scrimmage, Martin dropped back to the 1 and attempted to hook up with Rocky Finney in the end zone for a double pass, but the ball was off target and rolled out of the back of the end zone for a safety to make it 9-0 Stuttgart with 5:19 to play.
Stuttgart took the free kick from the Panthers and put together an 11-play drive that put the ball on the Panther 18, but Johnson coughed up the football and Matthew Cook pounced on the ball for Heber Springs on its own 27 with 16 seconds left in the opening quarter.
The two teams almost mirrored each other in the second quarter.
First it was the Panthers. Heber Springs moved the ball from its own 27 to the Stuttgart 26 as Martin connected with Tri Johnson first for a 16-yard completion and then three plays later with Nelson on a 14-yard strike. But the drive stalled and the Panthers turned the ball over on downs.
Stuttgart followed by getting a big pass play on second-and-25 from its own 11 as Johnson hit Walker for a short pass and Walker did the rest for a 45-yard gain. Fate Berry brought down Walker on a touchdown-saving tackle. The Ricebirds reached the Panther 22 before they too stalled and turned the ball over downs.
Both teams followed with three-and-out possessions and Heber Springs took over on its own 9 with 1:46 to play in the first half. On the first play of the drive, the Panthers coughed up the football and Walker recovered it for Stuttgart on the Heber Springs 2. Walker would then follow with a 2-yard run to make it 16-0 with 1:31 to go before halftime.
Heber Springs would respond. After Finney picked up 19 yards on the ensuing return, the Panthers would get another big play from the senior. He caught a short pass from Martin, made a Ricebird defender miss and raced 44 yards before being run out of bounds at the Stuttgart 12. Four plays later, Martin would keep the ball and plunge in from the 3. The Panthers went for two, but were stopped and trailed 16-6 with 32.9 seconds left to play in the first half.
“We probably chased some points early that I shouldn’t have and been down one (near the end of the game), maybe go for two late,” Gowen said. “but it is what is.
“I can’t be more proud of these kids. These kids don’t quit. Panthers don’t quit.”
NOT LOOKING GOOD
The second half didn’t start off well for the Panthers.
First, the Stuttgart defense forced Heber Springs to a three-and-out on the Panthers first possession. Then, it was Walker again. After taking over near midfield after the punt, the senior ran through tacklers and raced 52 yards on the Ricebirds second play from scrimmage in the second half to give Stuttgart a 22-6 lead with 9:39 to play in the third. The kick attempt was no good for Stuttgart.
“PANTHERS DON’T QUIT”
Heber Springs took the kickoff from its own 38, marched down field and responded. On fourth-and-1 from the Panther 47, Martin kept the ball on quarterback sneak to move the chains. Back-to-back first downs followed for Heber Springs as Martin connected with Berry for an 11-yard gain and Nelson ran for 10 more yards. Two plays, Martin found Johnson for a 16-yard completion and Nelson finished off the drive with a 7-yard run with 7:09 to play in the quarter to make it 22-12. The two-point conversion was no good.
DOWN BY 17
The Ricebirds responded with a nice drive of their own. Taking over on its own 37, Stuttgart moved the ball to the Panther 11, thanks in part to a 33-yard run by Walker. On third-and-3 at the 11, Samuel Hilborn and Tanner Tillman held Quin Nelson to a two-yard gain to force a fourth-and-1. But Nelson would follow with an eight-yard run and then punch it into the end zone one play later to give Stuttgart a 29-12 advantage with 3:01 to play in the third.
WILD THREE MINUTES
It took the Panthers 23 seconds to respond to the Ricebirds. After a 30-yard kickoff return by Nelson, Heber Springs took over on its own 47. From there, Nelson showed he wasn’t finished taking the handoff and racing 47 yards for the score to make it 29-19 after the Julian Cameron PAT kick.
However, two plays and 16 seconds later, the Ricebirds were back up by 17 points. First Derrick Amos ran for 21 and then Johnson connected with Grayham for a 22-yard touchdown pass to make it 36-19 at the 2:22 mark of the third.
After a 15-yard kickoff return and a six-yard run by Nelson, Martin would connect with Johnson for seven yards and a first down. Two plays later, Hall would take the ball, find a seam and outrace a pair of Ricebird defenders to make a 36-26 game with 27.5 seconds left to play in the quarter.
BIG DRIVE, BIG HIT
After the Ricebirds turned the ball over on downs, Heber Springs took over on its own 11 with 9:59 to play. Martin would find Finney for a first-down catch before Nelson would carry the ball four straight times for 28 yards and a pair of first downs.
A penalty against the Panthers pushed the ball back five yards. Martin would then scramble for a 12-yard gain before stepping out of bounds, but a late hit against Stuttgart would tack on 15 more yards. Another personal foul penalty against the Ricebirds would push the ball to the Stuttgart 12. Two plays later, Martin would find paydirt after scrambling to his right, reversing field to his left for the 10-yard touchdown run to make it 36-33 with 4:19 to play.
The Panthers needed the ball back, but Stuttgart didn’t oblige. On first down, Walker was stopped for a one-yard loss by Berry and Hall. But on the next play, Johnson dumped a pass to Walker, who gained 28 yards and a first down.
Walker again did in Heber Springs on third-and-2 with a three-yard run and another first down.
Three plays later, and the Panthers out of timeouts, Walker carried for five more yards on a third-and-3 to seal the win for the Ricebirds.
BY THE NUMBERS
First Downs: Heber Springs 19, Stuttgart 22
Third-Down Percentage: Heber Springs 4-8, Stuttgart 4-12
Fourth-Down Percentage: Heber Springs 1-2, Stuttgart 2-4
Rushing Att.-Yards-Avg: Heber Springs 35-221-6.3, Stuttgart 48-191-4.0
Passing Att.-Comp.-Yards-Int: Heber Springs 11-18-147-0, Stuttgart 12-23-200-0
Total Offense: Heber Springs 368, Stuttgart 391
Sacks-Yards: Heber Springs 0-0, Stuttgart 0-0
Penalties-Yards: Heber Springs 5-35, Stuttgart 5-50
Fumbles-Lost: Heber Springs 3-3, Stuttgart 2-1
Punts-Avg.: Heber Springs 2-27.5, Stuttgart 2-44.5
Rushing: Heber Springs – Heber Springs, Blaze Nelson 20-116-2, Adam Martin 10-46-2, Dalton Hall 4-54-1, Landon Johnson 1-5. Stuttgart, David Walker 17-111-3, Quin Nelson 12-24-1, Derrick Amos 9-59, Tim Johnson 5-3, Team 3-(-14), Tyion Berry 1-7, Kobe Robinson 1-1.
Passing: Heber Springs – Adam Martin 11-17 147 0-0, Rocky Finney 0-1 0 0-0. Stuttgart: Tim Johnson 11-22 169 1-0, Mitchell Stovesand 1-1 31 0-0.
Receiving: Heber Springs – Tri Johnson 5-64, Rocky Finney 2-54, Blaze Nelson 1-14, Fate Berry 1-11, Dalton Hall 1-4, Matthew Cook 1-0. Stuttgart – David Walker 4-96, Davion Grayham 4-77-1, John Hoskyn 1-15, Quin Nelson 1-7, Rhett Bohanon 1-5, Derrick Amos 1-0.
Total Offense: Heber Springs – Heber Springs, Adam Martin 193, Blaze Nelson 130, Tri Johnson 64, Dalton Hall 58, Rocky Finney 54, Fate Berry 11, Landon Johnson 5. Stuttgart, David Walker 207, Tim Johnson 172, Davion Grayham 77, Derrick Amos 59, Mitchell Stovesand 31, Quin Nelson 31, John Hoskyn 15, Tyion Berry 7, Rhett Bohanon 5, Kobe Robinson 1, Team (-14).