It’s fair to say the Benton Tigers outplayed the Captain Shreve Gators for three quarters Friday night at Tiger Stadium.
But unfortunately for the Tigers, the first quarter can’t be erased.
The Gators scored on their first three possessions. They managed only one field goal the rest of the game. But that was enough for a 24-21 victory in a hard-fought District 1-5A battle on a chilly night with a strong wind blowing in from the north.
“We talked to our guys all week,” Benton head coach Reynolds Moore said. “It sounds simple to play 48 minutes. We don’t feel like we’ve played 48 minutes in any game this year. I thought we played about 44 or 45 minutes tonight.”
Benton dropped to 1-3 overall and 1-2 in 1-5A. The Tigers’ three losses have been by a combined 11 points. All four games have been decided by seven points or less.
Captain Shreve, which shared the district championship with Airline last year, improved to 3-1 with its third straight win and 3-0 in district.
The game was a far cry from last season’s game won by Shreve 55-18.
“I’m not a moral victory guy,” Moore said. “I don’t want to be a moral victory guy. But at the same time our team played their tails off. The defense held one of the best scoring machines around here to three points in the second half and 24 overall and that’s pretty impressive.
“We did a great job. There were several points in the game offensively, defensively, special-teams wise, we could have folded and we didn’t.”
Cade Waites, Rowe Thompson, Nick Randall, Sawyer Simmons and Ashur Hall were among the defensive leaders.
Last season’s Shreve game was the first start at quarterback for Caleb Hood. Hood started the first game this season but was unable to play the second and sophomore Gray Walters has started ever since.
But Moore knew he needed to get Hood on the field so Friday night he put him at running back in the Tigers’ one-back offense.
That Hood responded well is an understatement. He rushed for 176 yards on 23 carries. He had touchdown runs of 5 and 29 yards. The latter got the Tigers within 24-21 with 6:56 left in the game.
The offensive line opened some big holes for Hood. The Tigers offense overall redeemed itself for a rough outing in a 7-0 loss to Haughton last week.
Moore said he went into the game expecting to give both Hood and Walters snaps at quarterback. But giving Hood a chance to carry the ball was an option, too.
“I felt like going into it he might be our best option at running back,” Moore said. “We were trying to get something going there. So I think we found something here.
“That doesn’t mean he won’t take snaps at quarterback. He’ll continue to play there and get reps there because he’s a heckuva quarterback too. He makes our team better when he’s on the field. I thought that was a real bright spot tonight offensively was Brother’s play and the offensive line did a great job of opening the holes.”
The Tigers had a couple of chances to pull out the win after Hood’s final touchdown.
The first came after it looked like the Gators were going to put the game always with a long drive on the ground. But Benton recovered a fumble at its 20.
The Tigers were forced to punt, though. With the wind at his back, RJ Moore got off a 69-yard punt, pinning Shreve at its 16.
The Tigers had all three time outs remaining and forced a punt. Benton took over on its 48 with more than two minutes left. But the Gators forced a fourth and long. A final pass fell incomplete in between a group of players inside the 10.
Shreve opened the game with a 61-yard touchdown drive capped by an 18-yard Ashton Martin pass. The Gators’ second TD drive covered 60 yards and ended with a Sam Smith 12-yard run.
The Tigers cut the lead to 14-7 on a 60-yard pass from Walters to Evan Cole and Moore’s PAT. Cole finished with 92 yards on five catches.
Shreve then drove 80 yards for its third touchdown, a 9-yard run by Martin off a nice fake.
Benton answered with an 80-yard drive of its own. Hall ripped off a 32-yard gain and Hood had two long runs. He scored on a 5-yard run up the middle, getting the Tigers within seven with 6:46 left in the half.
Benton drove to the Shreve 25 just before the half but Shreve forced a turnover on downs.
Both teams had touchdowns negated by penalties in the first six minutes of the third quarter.
Early in the fourth, Shreve converted a fourth-and-8 on a pass to the 1-yard line. On first down, the Tigers made a stop just short of the goalline. Then Shreve was penalized for illegal motion.
After two incomplete passes, Alex Auer booted a 22-yard field goal to extend the Gators’ lead to 24-21 with 9:33 left.
Benton plays its third straight home game Friday against Byrd. The Yellow Jackets (4-0, 3-0), who share the district lead with Shreve, defeated Parkway 42-7 Thursday night.