When Benton coach Reynolds Moore found out his Tigers would be playing Fair Park in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs, he wasn’t particulary pleased.
In Week 7, Benton defeated its District 1-4A rival 42-22 thanks to three fourth-quarter touchdowns. Moore knew the Indians would be fired up for the rematch. He also knew Fair Park was a well-coached team and it wouldn’t be easy to beat a team like that twice.
He was right. Fourth-seeded Benton avoided a big upset Friday night, edging No. 29 Fair Park 17-14 on sophomore Brooks Cram’s 31-yard field goal with 9 seconds left.
The Tigers rallied from 14-7 down in the third quarter.
“You’ve got to win to move on,” Moore said. “When that’s what you’re doing you can’t complain too much with a win.”
The victory was the Tigers’ ninth straight. Benton (10-1) will host No. 13 McDonogh 35 (9-2), a 26-6 winner over 1-4A’s Woodlawn, in the second round Friday.
The 17-point total was the lowest of the season for a Benton offense that came in averaging almost 40 points per game. The previous low came in a 28-21 victory over North DeSoto in Week 5.
Benton gave up 242 yards rushing (according to the Benton radio broadcast) to Fair Park speedster Robert Rochell, but 142 of that came on a pair of 71-yard touchdown runs.
The offense has been getting most of the credit for the Tigers’ success this season, but this time the defense stepped up.
“I was really proud of their effort,” Moore said. “For a season where the offense had kind of picked the pace up and set the tone in a lot of games when we needed them the most they came through. A lot of the credit goes to our staff preparing our kids over on that side of the football and our kids executing the gameplan.”
Benton quarterback Garrett Hable completed 25 of 42 passes for 158 yards with one interception, according to Benton radio. Jermaine Newton rushed 20 times for 82 yards. The Tigers amassed 264 yards to Fair Park’s 300.
Benton took an early 7-0 lead on a 1-yard Newton run and Cram’s PAT. But Fair Park grabbed an 8-7 lead at the half on Rochell’s first TD run and a two-point conversion.
“We felt we kind of moved the ball at will in the first half and couldn’t finish the drives,” Moore said. “We just missed a few passes, dropped a few passes, and weren’t protecting up front like we wanted to, like we had the last couple of weeks.
“That was not just us. That was lot of them making it really tough on us. I knew that when the team is coached that well and you are seeing them a second time. That’s why you’re not too excited by a draw like that.”
Fair Park went up 14-7 on Rochell’s second TD run early in the third quarter. But the Tigers stopped the two-point conversion attempt.
Benton tied it on a 15-yard screen pass from Hable to Newton and Cram’s PAT with 3.6 seconds left in the third quarter.
The defense came up with three big stops in the fourth quarter. And the offense was able to move into position for Cram’s field goal thanks to a couple of short passes and a longer one down the sideline to Clayton Festavan.
“The defense did a good job getting a stop, and I thought we did a good job using our time outs and keeping some time on the clock and working the sideline there at the end,” Moore said. “We were able to get some short throws and hit a bigger one to Festavan down the sideline at the end that put us in position to win that game.”
The field goal was only Cram’s third attempt of the year. He was one for two.
Last year, Brooks’ brother Shane made an interception to help seal a playoff against Belle Chasse. The Cram brothers are the sons of Benton assistant coach Tim Cram.
“It was neat to see that,” Moore said. “He does a real good job in practice. That was our best shot (to win the game) at that point. I thought he could hit it so I sent him out there and the kid did a great job and was clutch coming through right there.”
Benton will next be facing a McDonogh 35 team out of New Orleans that held high-scoring Woodlawn to just a touchdown.
“It’s an opportunity to play another South Louisiana team and maybe earn some respect for our area up here,” Moore said “They’re going to be a very athletic team. Their only two losses have come to Edna Karr and Warren Easton we know Easton (which defeated Benton last year in the playoffs) and what they bring to the table. No real shame in losing to them obviously.
“And they played Karr very, very close. It’ll be a tough game matchup wise. We haven’t seen any film of them yet but you kind of know what they’re going to bring to the table, what kind of athletes they’re going to have, so we’ll have to be on top of our game and move the football better than we did tonight and finish drives.”
— Russell Hedges, email@example.com