For a moment in the second half on Friday night, it looked like the Benton Tigers might just have a shot at pulling off an amazing comeback against the Tioga Indians in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs.
Benton had rallied from a 27-0 deficit in the first half at Tiger Stadium to get within 14. When the Tigers recovered an onside kick, the momentum had definitely shifted.
Benton had shown the ability to come from behind in the second half during the regular season.
But the Tigers couldn’t capitalize and had to punt. The Indians then put another touchdown on the board with 6:58 left to play and went on to win 42-21.
Benton, the No. 16 seed, closed its season 7-4. Tioga (8-3), the No. 17 seed, will host top-seeded Edna Karr in the second round. The Indians avenged a 27-17 loss to Benton in Week 2 in Tioga.
“They just outplayed us,” Benton coach Reynolds Moore said. “We came out flat at the start. They just played harder than we did for 48 minutes. We fought back. The guys didn’t quit. We lacked some intensity in the first half. We got so far behind.”
“In the second half we came out with a little intensity. The thing was Tioga didn’t come out flat. They kind of matched our intensity. We were just too far behind to catch up.”
The Tigers had problems stopping the Indians’ passing attack. According to statistics kept by Tioga and posted on MaxPreps.com, Tioga quarterback Blake Mcgehee completed 25 of 34 passes for 351 yards.
Kenneth Ravare caught eight passes for 163 yards. Deven Franklin had eight catches for 104 yards. Ethan Christman had seven catches for 70 yards.
Sophomore quarterback Clint Lasiter scored Benton’s three TDs on short runs.
The Tigers hurt themselves with turnovers. A bad punt snap also led to a Tioga TD.
Moore obviously wasn’t ready to the season to end. But he said the Tigers exceeded preseason expectations considering the number of veteran players lost to graduation off last season’s 11-1 team.
“The players all think, ‘Hey, we’re going to go 10-0,’ and that sort of stuff,” Moore said. “They want to win every game. That’s great. That’s what you want them to do. But as a coach you look at it realistically.
“You look at how much (experience) you lost. You have a lot of gaps to fill, spots to fill. For us it was a lot of spots to fill that had not been vacant in two, three, four years. The unknowns kind of put some questions in our mind and you lose that game to Wossman in Week 1 and you go, ‘Man, I don’t know how good we’re going to get.’ And then the guys turned it on and found a way to win and found a way to win consistently.”
After starting the season 0-2, Benton won seven of its final eight regular-season games. The Tigers won at least seven games for the fifth straight year.
They surprised some by finishing second in District 1-4A with 6-1 record, falling only to undefeated champion Northwood 28-27. The No. 7 seed Falcons (11-0) advanced to the second round Friday with a 48-12 victory over No. 26 Terrebonne.
Friday’s game was Benton’s last in Class 4A. The Tigers are moving up to Class 5A next season.
Moore will have to replace 12 senior starters, including several that started for two or more years. Defensive back Sam Simmons was a four-year starter.
The seniors helped the Tigers win 28 games over the past three seasons.
“If you’ve got a team full of those guys with their heart, their dedication, their work ethic, you wouldn’t have any problems,” Moore said. “There are always special kids in every bunch, what they’ve meant to the program, how they carried themselves, what they did for the underclassmen, the legacy they’ve left.
“You talk about some of these names in this class, they are certainly special to me. And you’ve got some other kids too that didn’t play a lot but were here for four years and those kids are also very important to our program.
“There are so many guys who have contributed to our program that will be tough to replace. But at the same time some young guys get a chance to step up. So we’ll probably take up stuff next week and do some exit interviews, things like that, and then get going full-fledged after Thanksgiving week. I’m looking forward to these guys that are coming back to see what they’re going to do. Not only just in general but also with that 5A move up.”