After giving up multiple big plays, the Benton Tigers found themselves trailing the Huntington Raiders 27-20 midway through the second quarter Thursday night at Independence Stadium.
Then Huntington blocked a punt. The Raiders had a first-and-goal at the 5.
This time the Benton defense rose to the challenge, forcing Huntington to settle for a field goal and a 30-20 lead.
As it turned out, that would be the Raiders’ last hurrah. Benton got a good kickoff return and drove for a touchdown to get within three with 45 seconds left in the half.
The Tigers dominated the second half on both sides of the ball, closing the game with 37 unanswered points en route to a 57-30 victory.
The game was played in near ideal weather conditions with temperatures in the low 70s and a cool breeze blowing. It was also a dry night with the rain from the remnants of Tropical Storm Imelda stopping well before kickoff.
Benton improved to 3-0 while handing Huntington its first loss.
“Just blown away by how well the kids played in the second half,” Benton head coach Reynolds Moore said. “At one point we felt like we may end up in a shootout. We were worried that we’d never stop them and our guys finally settled in and trusted what we did and how we do things so that was good.”
Moore said forcing the field goal gave the defense confidence that carried over into the second half.
“Then to come out and shut them out in the second half, that’s big,” he said.
The Raiders didn’t come close to scoring in the second half as Benton put a lot of pressure on quarterback J’Rell Joseph and clamped down on the Raiders’ receivers.
The Benton offense was on fire from the get-go.
Junior quarterback Clint Lasiter passed for four touchdowns and ran for one. Cameron Barnett and Jastin Johnson ran through big holes provided by a dominant line, gaining chunks of yardage at a time. Benton finished with 338 yards rushing.
When the backs, including Lasiter, were hit they still managed to fight for extra yardage.
Barnett rushed for 180 yards on 20 carries. Johnson gained 126 on 18.
“The backs played really well,” Moore said. “The offensive line … in the second half we only threw the ball like five times. We just ran the ball down their throat. That was huge.”
Lasiter was also sharp, completing 14 of 19 passes for 227 yards with no interceptions.
His TD passes went to Artis Cole (58 yards), Evan Cole (5 yards), Davis Sellers (4 yards) and Malik Antwine (9 yards).
Antwine was well-covered in the back left corner of the end zone. Lasiter put the ball where he could go up and get it and he did just that.
Antwine also had a 28-yard catch on Benton’s second touchdown drive. He finished with four catches for 49 yards.
Sellers had a big 3-yard catch on fourth-and-2 at Huntington 4 in the second half. It came after the Raiders were offsides as Benton lined up for a 25-yard field goal attempt.
Sellers’ TD catch gave Benton its first lead of the game at 34-30 early in the third quarter.
Evan Cole had a 60-yard catch and run that set up the Tigers’ third touchdown. He had two catches for 74 yards.
Barnett scored on runs of 15 and 21 yards. Johnson scored on a 1-yard run. He had a 30-yard run on the first touchdown drive of the second half.
RJ Moore missed his first PAT of the season, but he was good on seven others.
Offensive lineman Hunter Womack even got in on the scoring. With Benton driving for what looked like another sure TD, Barnett broke loose but fumbled at the 5. A Raider picked up the ball at the 4 and ran back into the end zone. Womack was there to tackle him for a safety.
Moore was impressed by Huntington’s first-half performance and believes the Raiders will have a chance to do some damage in District 1-4A.
Joseph passed for touchdowns of 65, 10, 54 and 74 yards. On the 65-yarder, the receiver was blanketed by a defender and made a great catch. The 54-yarder was a perfectly executed screen pass. On the 74-yarder, the receiver was uncovered. The 10-yarder was set up by a 91-yard kickoff return.
But the big plays ended after the first half.
After their perfect run through non-district play, the Tigers can now turn their attention to their first district game as a member of 1-5A. Benton hosts Parkway (2-1) Friday. The Panthers lost to Alexandria 42-0 Friday night.
“Big parish rivalry,” Moore said. “It will be a great way to start 5A play.”