After dropping four straight in midseason, the Benton Tigers finished the regular season strong.
Benton defeated Natchitoches Central 18-15 in a District 1-5A game Friday night at Northwestern State’s Turpin Stadium.
The Tigers won two of their last three games. In the other, they had district co-champion Airline on the ropes midway through the fourth quarter before the Vikings came back to win 29-16.
Benton finished the regular season 5-5 overall and 2-5 in district.
It looks like Friday night’s victory will be enough to get Benton into the playoffs in their first year in Class 5A.
According to final official power rankings posted on the LHSAA website Saturday, Benton was No. 32 in the power rankings. The top 32 teams make the playoffs. The Tigers will travel to No. 1 Acadiana in the first round.
And that’s fine with Benton head coach Reynolds Moore.
“Our goal at the beginning of the year was to make the playoffs first year in 5A,” he said. “I told (the players) at the beginning of the year even if we sneak in at 30, 31 or 32 at least that first week you go play.
“You know how far you are from the top then. You know what it takes to get there. You know how different at the top 4A and 5A are. Either way would’ve been good for us. It’s exciting to get in really.”
The victory over Natchitoches Central (3-7, 2-5) wasn’t easy. With the Tigers trailing 15-12 in the fourth quarter, Caleb Cassidy scored the go-ahead touchdown on a run.
Benton played without leading rusher Cameron Barnett, who suffered a cervical sprain and concussion in the Week 9 loss to Airline. Second-leading rusher Jastin Johnson went out with an injury on the third play of Friday’s game and didn’t return.
Sophomore Trent Williams got some carries. Ashur Hall, the starting middle linebacker, made some big runs to help Benton seal the victory in the fourth quarter.
Moore said Cassidy, whose nickname is Brother, fared well running and passing. He had a hand in all three touchdowns, running for two and passing to Artis Cole for one.
“We used Brother to run the ball a whole bunch tonight,” Moore said.
Moore said the Tigers receivers dropped some passes early but made some big catches late.
“We kept coming back to them because we knew we had them open, and they finally started catching them,” he said. “Brother I thought threw the ball really, really well all night. Made some big throws. I was pleased with his progress from where he started to where he is now.”
Moore also praised the the defense, which has come on strong at the end of the season after a tough midseason.
“The defense was just incredible the whole night,” he said.