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High school football: Late Benton rally comes up just short against undefeated Shreve

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With his Tigers trailing undefeated Captain Shreve 28-7 at the half Friday night, Benton Head Coach Reynolds Moore asked his team to focus on one thing.

“Guys, just go out there, don’t worry about the scoreboard, play your tails off and just make sure they know that you belong,” he told his team.

The Tigers did just that. Benton cut a 35-14 third-quarter deficit to six points with just over three minutes to play in the game. 

The ensuing onside kick was well-executed. But the Gators recovered, drove for a touchdown and escaped with a 48-35 victory at Lee Hedges Stadium.

“We had a shot at it but just didn’t get it,” Moore said. “Big credit to them.”

Captain Shreve, ranked No. 7 in the LSWA Class 5A poll, improved to 6-0 overall and 3-0 in District 1-5A. Benton dropped to 4-2 and 1-2.

Benton is in its third season in Class 5A after moving up from 4A in 2019.

“All I asked our guys to do before the game was to believe they belonged on the field with other 5A programs,” Moore said. “I don’t think everybody realizes how difficult that is sometimes.”

Benton was coming off its first win over Haughton since moving into 1-5A.

“A big win for our program … So we really wanted to go out there tonight and back up what we thought was a good performance last week with another good outing this week,” Moore said. “And I thought out of the 48 minutes we probably played 30 of them. You can’t not play a complete game against a good football team. That cost us tonight.”

Benton got off to a great start. After forcing a punt on Shreve’s first possession, the Tigers drove to the Gators 28. A perfectly executed screen pass from Gray Walters to Ethan Johnson resulted in the game’s first touchdown.

Benton then recovered an onside kick. But a sack on fourth down ended the threat.

Shreve’s high-powered offense owned most of the rest of the half. After the Gators went up 21-7, Benton did have a good chance to cut into the lead.

But the Gators recovered a fumble after a completed pass at their 25 and promptly drove for their third touchdown of the second quarter.

“We were just out of sync in the first half,” Moore said.

The Tigers quickly got back in the game at the start of the second half.

Evan Cole took a handoff on the kickoff return and raced 99 yards down the sideline in front of the Benton bench for a touchdown.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, it took the Gators just two plays to make it a 21-point game again.

But Benton answered quickly. The Tigers scored on a 25-yard pass from Walters to Pearce Russell to cut the lead to 35-21.

Walters then hit Russell for an 80-yard touchdown and all of a sudden it was a one-score game still in the third quarter. Russell had another outstanding performance, catching nine passes for 203 yards, per Shreve stats.

But the Gators answered again to go up 41-28 with 1:08 left in the third.

Led by quarterback Kenyon Terrell, receivers Kendrick Law and Braylon Finney and running backs William Moore and Jayden Edwards, the Shreve offense gained big chunks of yardage.

Per Shreve stats, the Gators had 673 total yards. Moore rushed for 168 yards on 14 carries and scored two touchdowns. 

Terrell completed 15 of 31 passes for a career-high 279 yards and two TDs. Finney had three catches for 138 yards, including a 69-yard TD.

“We knew they were going to have big-play capability,” Moore said. “They were probably going to make some big plays. We’d have to answer at some point. There were several times we made them drive the field, several times we got a stop after they crossed into plus territory.

“So for as much as they were on the field in the first half I thought our defense played well. Just missed some tackles in the second half. I think our guys were tired. We just have to do a better job of making those plays. Several times we were right there and didn’t make the play. Every time we made the big play they came right back and answered.”

Shreve was at times its worst enemy, but the Gators managed to overcome 15 penalties.

Walters turned in a gutty performance playing through some pain. He completed 25 of 49 passes for 389 yards with no interceptions, per Shreve stats. His fourth TD pass, a 5-yarder to RJ Moore, got the Tigers within six with 3:22 left.

“Gray has got some knee issues that were really giving him fits tonight and he struggled a little bit but he did tough it out and played his butt off, had another great night,” Moore said.

Benton will again be at Lee Hedges Stadium on Thursday to play Byrd. The Yellow Jackets (5-1, 2-1) defeated Parkway 35-24 Thursday night.

Shreve hosts Natchitoches Central (6-0, 3-0) Friday with first place in the district on the line.

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