The Catholic Rockets, perhaps a .500 team for the past 10 years or so and crushed by the Panthers 40-7 last season, could be the real deal this season. The Rockets jumped over the Panthers 17-0 on Friday night, and although the Panthers made it a 17-14 game early in the second half, the Rockets pulled away from Benton for a 38-14 win in the second half. 6A Eastern Conference game at War Memorial Stadium. in Little Rock.
“A bad night for the Benton Panthers,” Benton coach Brad Harris said. “They (the Rockets) played very well. They played hard all night and played better than us in all phases of the game. Offensively, defensively…defensively, they’ve been invading the ball all night and we just couldn’t shake things up offensively. In attack, they attacked us. They played really well. I’m really impressed with them. They are going to be a good team this year.
“Coach (John) Fogleman had his guys ready to play and they were a different team than last year. They outplayed us, coached us, pushed us around, they did everything better than us.
It looked like it was going to be a defensive game the first three series as the two teams traded punts and gained a minus-1 yard total. The Panthers (1-2, 1-1) kicked off the third series and the Rockets (3-0, 2-0) got to work. Catholic senior quarterback Sam Sanders capped an 11-play, 71-yard drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Cody Fogleman for the 7-0 lead with 3:53 left in the first quarter. The trip was 5:15 late.
The Panthers lost focus and a midrange kickoff remained untouched and Catholic recovered at the Benton 23-yard line which would end with a 39-yard field goal by Will Aaron and a 10-0 lead Rocket, who held after one quarter.
The Catholic defense forced a turnover on the downs as Benton’s offense couldn’t do much, and it didn’t take long for the Rockets to get back on the board. Sanders capped a 5-play, 72-yard drive with a 35-yard TD pass to Brooks Ward for the 17-0 advantage with 9:42 left in the first half.
The Panthers would go for it though, as senior Jack Woolbright ran for 14 yards for the first down and hit junior running back Braylen Russell for a 17-yard gain. The 7-game, 54-yard run was capped at Russell’s 11-yard run and 17-7 ball game with 7:20 to go in the half, stalling the rest of the quarter as Benton’s second student, O’Marcus King, knocked out Sanders on the last game of the half.
The Panther D held on in the Rockets’ first half, forcing a turnover on the downs and Benton responded with a 13-play, 67-yard drive, highlighted by a Woolbright to second-year receiver Maddox Davis 40 yards, and capped on a 2-yard Russell TD for Benton’s 17-14 deficit.
But, Benton essentially gave Catholic a score in the next series with two facemask penalties resulting in 30 free yards, and Sanders capped the drive with a 1-yard QB guard for the 24-14 advantage.
After Woolbright hit second Elias Payne for a 30-yard gain, the penalties came back to bite Benton again. A face mask and two holding penalties backed the Panthers up and Lucas Wilbur’s 36-yard field goal try hit the left crossbar to stop the score early in the fourth.
“Really bad times,” Harris said of penalties preventing the Panthers from scoring. “We go down to the red zone, it’s a tight game and we have the ball on the 2-yard line. We receive a penalty for detention, then an unsportsmanlike personal foul and that sets us back. Missing the field goal. We were never able to close the gap.
Sanders would cap a 9-play, 80-yard drive with an 11-yard TD run to make it 31-14 Catholic and Woolbright would be intercepted by Cole Pace, who returned him 70 yards for a TD to define the final.
“As effective as we were offensively last week, defensively, special teams, this week was so bad,” Harris differentiated last week’s 58-24 win over Sylvan Hills. “We weren’t effective at all and we didn’t make plays. You have to give that to the Catholics. They just played better than us.
As in the first two games when they beat North Little Rock 23-6 and Greene County Tech 35-0, the defense was solid again for Catholic, giving up 319 total yards to the Panthers. Russell finished with 78 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries. Woolbright, 11 of 12 for 191 yards and four touchdowns last week, was 13 of 30 for 172 yards and a pick.
“They did a really good job with the running game,” Harris said. “They weren’t afraid of our passing game at all. They had seven guys tripping the box at all times. We couldn’t make edge plays in the passing game to compensate for that and loosen them up. We have to find a way to soften the box offensively and defensively… I don’t know how many tackles we missed, but we missed way too many.
Sanders finished 13 of 19 for 182 yards and two touchdowns, running for two more scores for the Rockets, while junior running back Dominic Keeton cut up the Panthers with 22 carries for 114 yards.
“Their running back ran really hard in football,” Harris said of the 5-foot-10, 150-pound Keeton. “He’s the smallest running back we’ve seen this year, but he was very elusive. Did a great job of keeping his balance and we didn’t pack him. They chased us.
“We had a period there, second quarter, third quarter, we played pretty well. We just got complacent and bam, before you know it, we’re down again. Not a good night. I have to do a better job preparing them, but our kids have to do a better job competing. It was a combination of everything. It was a team effort to take the loss. »
The Panthers host defending 6A champion El Dorado (1-2, 1-1), who beat Greene County Tech 44-6 last night, at Everett Field in Benton on Friday.
“We brought El Dorado to town and they had a big win over Greene County Tech,” Harris said. “It’s their first win of the season, so they’ll be on top. Big night for us next week. We have to regroup, find a way to move things in the right direction.