For the second straight year, the game between the Benton Tigers and Parkway Panthers went down to the wire.
And for the second straight year, there was a fourth-quarter comeback. Last year, Benton rallied late for a 32-26 overtime victory.
Friday night at Tiger Stadium, it was Parkway’s turn. The Panthers scored a pair of late touchdowns, overcoming a seven-point deficit and coming away with a 30-23 victory in a District 1-5A opener.
Benton suffered its first loss and dropped to 3-1. Parkway improved to 3-1.
It was the kind of game where both teams left everything on the field. A large crowd was on hand on a perfect night for high school football.
Benton took a 23-16 lead in the third quarter. The Tigers capitalized on a Sawyer Simmons interception with a touchdown pass from Gray Walters to Greg Manning.
Parkway answered with a 32-yard touchdown pass from Cannon Link to Edward Moses.
The Panthers scored the go-ahead touchdown in unlikely fashion. On third-and-30 from the Parkway 7, Link completed a 25-yard pass to tight end Jatavious Calhoun
Parkway Head Coach Coy Brotherton decided to gamble, going for the first down from the 32.
It paid off big time. Speedster Jaylan White went 68 yards for a touchdown.
Brotherton said he went on gut instinct.
“About three minutes left and I figured if we punted it to them we probably wouldn’t get a chance to win it in regulation,” he said. “If we’re going to have a chance to win in regulation we better go for it. I didn’t really want to get into an overtime game like we did last year.
“That was in the back of my mind and I just kind of felt like the way we had been getting a push and the way they were kind of tired I thought we had an advantage there. We decided to go for it and he busted through and he just outran ‘em all the way to the end zone.”
The Panthers defense did the rest.
“We just couldn’t get anything going after that,” Benton Head Coach Reynolds Moore said,
The Tigers got off to a great start, taking a 13-0 lead. The Panthers cut the lead to six on a 2-yard run by White.
With the clock ticking down in the first half, the Parkway defense stopped a fourth-down try.
With just one second on the clock, Aeron Burrell kicked a 38-yard field goal and Benton led 13-10 at the half.
“Parkway kept fighting, got in the game,” Moore said. “Hat’s off to them.”
Parkway took its first lead in the third quarter on a 15-yard pass from Link to Ron Richmond. Benton tied it at 16 on a field goal by RJ Moore, setting up the dramatic conclusion.
“Just a lot of emotions and momentum swings tonight,” Brotherton said.
Brotherton said Calhoun, who had another key third-down catch, was a difference-maker in the game.
“It’s kind of funny,” he said “He only had one catch coming into tonight. Definitely, he stepped up big time in two big situations, too.”
Brotherton also had high praise for Link, who played through some adversity and completed 14 of 19 passes for 157 yards.
“I think Cannon played a great game,” he said.
White had another big night, rushing for 144 yards on 21 carries. He has 597 yards for the season.
Derek Brown also contributed 60 yards on 11 carries. Richmond had five receptions for 74 yards.
Benton receiver Pearce Russell caught a 59-yard touchdown pass from Walters for the Tigers’ first TD. Manning continued his strong season, scoring a rushing touchdown in addition to the reception that gave Benton the fourth-quarter lead.
Parkway plays Captain Shreve Friday at Lee Hedges Stadium. The Gators (4-0, 1-0) were scheduled to play Southwood Friday night but the Cowboys had to forfeit.
Benton visits Haughton on Friday. The Bucs (2-2, 0-1) lost to Byrd 38-7 Friday night,