Down two touchdowns in the third quarter, the Benton Tigers almost rallied for a last-second victory over the Huntington Raiders in a season opener Friday night at Tiger Stadium.
Pearce Russell caught a pass from Caleb Hood and got out of bounds to stop the clock with 2 seconds left to play. But the Tigers missed the field goal and Huntington won 27-26.
The Raiders ended a nine-game losing streak in the series.
Benton also missed an extra point and had one blocked. But Benton head coach Reynolds Moore said the outcome didn’t come down to one or two plays.
“I felt like we didn’t tackle well in the first half,” he said. “We missed some open receivers in the first half. We dropped a touchdown in the second half. We just didn’t play well.”
The Tigers played without a starting defensive back who had to sit out due to contact tracing.
“The kid that had to play didn’t get a ton of reps this week,” Moore said. “That’s tough on him to go in there and have to do that. Overall the things we thought we’d be good on we just didn’t do well early.”
Huntington quarterback J’Rell Joseph completed 19 of 33 passes for 259 yards and four touchdowns.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game coming in and when we lost the DB it was going to be even tougher,” Moore said.
There were some bright spots, though.
“We did a lot of things well,” Moore said. “Some things we’ve got to prepare better for. That’s on me.”
The game was tied at 7 at the half. Ashur Hall, a two-time All-Parish linebacker, scored Benton’s touchdown on a 4-yard run.
Benton grabbed a 14-7 lead in the third quarter on a halfback pass.
But Huntington scored three straight touchdowns. The second came after a Benton fumble and put the Raiders ahead 21-14. An 80-yard TD pass extended the lead to 27-14 late in the third quarter.
The Tigers answered with a long touchdown pass but the PAT was no good. Benton got within one with 4:03 left but the Raiders blocked the extra-point kick.
Benton recovered an onside kick but failed to get a first down. The Tigers got the ball back at their 36 with 1:04 left but were out of timeouts.
After Huntington was called for a facemask penalty on a sack, Hood hit some big passes, setting up the failed field-goal attempt on the final play.
Moore felt the attempt was too rushed considering the clock was stopped.
“That’s one thing I told the guys,” he said “We haven’t worked on that a whole bunch. It felt rushed but it shouldn’t have been. It was out of bounds and we had the time.”
Aside from missing a few big-play opportunities in the first half, Moore thought quarterbacks Hood and Gray Walters both played well for the most part.
Hood completed 16 of 32 passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns. Walters completed three of six for 50 yards and a touchdown.
“We’ve got some work to do for sure there,” he said. “I think there is some growth to go for both those guys right now. I know they can do better. That’s what we’re looking for now.”
Russell caught four passes for 75 yards. Cade Stewart and Dane Stearns both caught three for 63. Evan Cole had three catches for 40 yards.
Benton opens District 1-5A play against Parkway at Bobby Marlow Field/Preston Crownover Stadium on Friday. The Panthers lost their opener to Alexandria 35-12 on the road.