The Benton Tigers won a share of their first district championship since 2008 with a 14-7 victory over the Huntington Raiders Friday night at Lee Hedges Stadium.
The Tigers (8-2, 6-1) will share the District 1-4A title with North DeSoto and Minden. Benton will host a first-round playoff game next Friday. Based on projected power rankings on the website Louisiana Sportsline, Benton will be the No. 4 seed and face No. 29 Belle Chasse.
Seemingly in control of the game after taking a 14-0 lead midway through the fourth quarter on Brayden Hutcinson’s short TD run, the Tigers had to sweat out a wild finish.
First, Huntington scored on a 45-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 14-7. Then the Raiders reached the Benton 25 in the waning seconds. Huntington completed a pass for an apparent touchdown but it was nullified by an illegal formation penalty. The Raiders got another chance but this time the Tigers batted the ball away.
A nail-biting finish was nothing new for Benton. The Tigers went 1-1 in overtime games in district play.
“It was kind of wild there at the end,” Benton coach Reynolds Moore said. “It was kind of an awkward deal or a weird kind of way to end a game.”
Regardless, the bottom line is that Moore has a district title in just his second year as a head coach. But he gives the credit to his players, coaching staff and the Benton community.
“First of all I’m super proud of our seniors for putting Benton back where it’s supposed to be and setting the expectations for years to come for underclassmen,” he said “I’ve got a phenomenal coaching staff who works tirelessly to make sure our kids are better prepared than anybody we play, to make sure that we’re giving them the best chance to win.
“I feel very blessed to be in this community that supports us like it does and to have this coaching staff and the support of this administration. It’s an overwheliming feeling. It’s one of the things we set out to accomplish. We basically set two goals. One was to be in the playoffs and one to win district and we’ve done those two things. It wasn’t always pretty — tonight wasn’t real pretty — but we did what we had to do to win. That makes me proud of our guys.”
Benton led 7-0 at the half on the strength of a TD pass from Garrett Hable to Tyler Stephens. Other than that, though, the Tigers had little success on offense. Benton ran just 23 plays in the first half.
The defense played well. Keon Coleman had several sacks and the Tigers came up with a goalline stand, holding the Raiders out of the end zone from inside the 1.
“That was huge for us,” Moore said. “After that they really didn’t get anything going until that last drive.”
Moore felt the Tigers were a little flat in the first half.
“I talked to them at halftime,” Moore said. “I said, ‘You got a lead, let’s get the ball back and let’s put this game away. Let’s go ahead and make a statement and play with some passion and intensity,’ and we did. We came out and moved the ball. We moved it from 30 to 30, had four or five first downs, just couldn’t get it done.”
On the touchdown drive, Benton got into its power run formation with Chauncey Taylor doing most of the work. The drive, capped by Hutchinson’s touchdown, took about six minutes off the clock.
That set up the crazy finish.
Moore is looking forward to having a playoff game at home.
“I think our community is really hungry for it,” he said “We’ve seen a lot of support this year. We’ve seen it grow and grow, From last year to this and from Week 1 to Week 8 when we played our last home game.
“The support and turnout has been incredible. I can’t wait to give this to our fans and student body who has truly bought in and been there for us this year even at away games. I’m so excited about seeing our crowd and seeing our fans. I don’t think our seniors have played in a home playoff game so that will be a big experience for them and it’s certainly an opportunity that’s well-deserved.”
— Russell Hedges, firstname.lastname@example.org