With about five minutes left in Thursday’s District 1-4A game against Fair Park in Benton, the Benton Tigers trailed the Indians by two touchdowns.
Fair Park had just ended a scoring threat with an interception in the end zone. It looked like the Indians were going to send the Tigers to their second loss of the season. All they really needed to do was not make a mistake, pick up a few first downs and watch the time tick off the clock.
But the Tigers would have none of it.
The defense got a stop and freshman quarterback Garrett Hable entered the game. He led the Tigers down the field and hit Tyler Stephens with a touchdown pass.
“He put it low and away where only Tyler could get it, and Tyler made a great catch,” Benton coach Reynolds Moore said.
The extra-point try was blocked and Benton trailed 18-12 with 3:06 left.
The Tigers tried an onsides kick and barely missed getting the recovery. But the defense came through again, forcing a punt. Benton took over around midfield.
Hable again led the team into scoring territory. On third-and-9, he passed to sophomore Ian McEntee, who caught the ball but just out of bounds. On fourth- down, he hit Stephens again for the tying touchdown with 1:15 left in the game.
“Tyler actually told me, ‘I can get open,’ “Moore said. “I trusted Tyler. I trusted Garrett to make the throw. It was a great throw and a great catch.”
Because the two previous extra-point tries had been blocked, Moore elected to go for two. But the Tigers were held just short of the end zone and the game went into overtime.
Fair Park had possession first. On third down, Benton senior linebacker Gage Carroway made the first interception of his career and the Tigers took over needing a score to win.
Runs by TJ Anderson and Hable moved the ball to the 5.
“On third down we go in a power package and have a run called and they called time out,” Moore said. “I kind of felt like they’d be coming in real hard on that power set. So we kind of just dumped it off to TJ out in the flat and scored to win the game.”
Anderson’s touchdown set up a huge celebration as the Tigers charged onto the field.
With the 24-18 win, Benton improved to 5-1 overall and 3-0 in District 1-4A. Fair Park, whose head coach is former Airline coach Mike Greene, fell to 4-2 and 1-2.
“It’s one of those moments when you look back at your team and say what a gutsy effort,” Moore said. “You have a freshman quarterback who steps up and makes plays. You got a freshman receiver (Doyle Adams Jr.) who had six catches tonight, just picking up yards and keeping the chains moving.”
Benton was without starting wideouts DorSavion Williams and Clayton Festavan.
For the first time since Week 3, the Tigers’ starting quarterback, Christian Smith, was healthy enough to play. He completed 19 of 28 passes for 129 yards and led the Tigers to their only first-half touchdown, a 2-yard run by Chauncey Taylor.
Moore said Smith did a lot of good things. He just felt he needed to make a change after the final interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter.
Moore said it was just a “gut feeling” to put Hable in.
“I thought he’d do well; I just didn’t know he’d do this well,” Moore said. “We just wanted to give him a shot. He’s a freshman. I knew he’d be special. He’s showed that he deserves the praise we’ve given him as a freshman. I just can’t say enough about how controlled he was in there. He didn’t panic. He wasn’t rushing. It looked like he’d been doing it his whole life.”
Hable completed seven of 11 passes for 59 yards. Stephens caught 10 passes for 79 yards.
The Benton defense had its streak of two straight shutouts and 11 straight scoreless quarters broken. Fair Park’s talented quarterback, Se’Derrick Smith, threw three touchdown passes, including one of 90 yards.
But the Tigers got the stops when they absolutely had to have them.
“Our guys didn’t quit,” Moore said. “I talked to them about it at halftime. We probably played the worse half of football we could have. We made so many mistakes. We just looked kind of out of sync.”
But all that didn’t matter after what happened in the final minutes of the game.
Benton continues District 1-4A play Friday at Messmer Stadium against Loyola. The Flyers (1-4) played Minden Friday night.
— Russell Hedges, firstname.lastname@example.org