High school football: Benton wallops Natchitoches Central

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The Benton Tigers took a season’s worth of frustrations out on the Natchitoches Central Chiefs Friday night, rolling to a 40-0 victory at Tiger Stadium.

Benton finished the official regular season 2-4 overall and 2-3 in District 1-5A.

According to GeauxPreps.com, Benton was No. 34 in the unofficial Class 5A power rankings early Saturday with games remaining to be played Saturday. 

The top 32 teams in the LHSAA’s final official rankings make the playoffs. Those and the pairings will be revealed Sunday beginning at 11 a.m.

Sulphur, which is No. 33, has opted out of the playoffs so the Tigers would need to move up one spot to make it.

Even if it doesn’t make the playoffs, Benton’s season may not be over. Because of the cancellation of the first two games of the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the LHSAA is allowing teams that don’t make the playoffs to schedule one postseason “bowl” game.

Benton head coach Reynolds Moore said that would be a possibility for the Tigers.

Benton was just a few plays here and there from going 6-0. Benton’s first five games were all decided by seven points or less. The Tigers’ four losses were by a combined 14 points.

Benton had to cancel games against district champion Byrd and Southwood because of COVID-19 issues.

Natchitoches Central finished 0-8 and 0-6. But the Chiefs were competitive in most games. Not so Friday as the 40-point margin was their worst loss of the season.

The Tigers made sure early the game wasn’t going to be as exciting as the previous five.

Benton scored on its first two possessions and led 26-0 at the half. The offense moved the ball at will. The defense also dominated with Natchitoches Central having just a few realistic scoring opportunities.

“The kids played well,” Moore said. “We ran the ball well. We threw the ball well, blocked up front.”

Sophomore quarterback Gray Walters threw touchdown passes 11 to Dane Stearns and 5 to Pearce Russell. Stearns also had a 46-yard catch that set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Greg Manning.

Jastin Johnson went 11 yards through a huge hole created by the left side of the line for Benton’s first touchdown.

Ashur Hall scored on a 2-yard run and had an interception from his middle linebacker position.

Backup Kylin Jackson scored the Tigers’ final TD on a 3-yard run.

Moore credited his seniors with their leadership in keeping the team focused during the string of close losses and cancellations.

It came down to fighting through adversity.

“They led well, on the field, off the field, classroom, weight room, locker room, all the things you have to do,” he said. “They set the tone by not complaining, just doing them so they could have a season. Just really proud of them.”

Moore also reflected on the strangeness of what will always be referred to as the COVID-19 season.

“Looking back there are some things,” he said. “You’re coaching with a mask on. Some of the coaches were laughing today about our collections of masks that we’ve accumulated, the different styles. It’s just so weird to think about that this is supposed to be normal now. Also talked a little about this is what next year is going to look like. Is this what football looks like now? How do we do that and I think that’s one of the biggest questions.”