Before the season, there was some question as to whether the Benton Tigers defense would be able to measure up to the outstanding 2014 version.
After Friday’s 28-21 District 1-4A victory over previously undefeated and fourth-ranked North DeSoto, Benton coach Reynolds Moore said his defense is starting to make a name for itself this season.
“I think our defense was outstanding,” said Moore, whose Tigers improved to 4-1 overall and 2-0 in 1-4A. “There were some rumblings that they weren’t as good as the last couple of years’ defense. I’m not saying they are right now, but they certainly earned it tonight — the idea to be a Benton defense, what we’ve been the last couple of years. They earned to the right to be over there.
“They did a great job of playing responsibility football. We’re just real proud of those guys over there to get their confidence up and see that kind of play.”
The Tigers didn’t shut down North DeSoto’s powerful running game completely, but they came up with some big stops when necessary.
One of the biggest was near end of the game. With about two minutes remaining and Benton leading 28-21, the Tigers punted the ball away. But big lineman TJ Anderson intercepted a batted pass and Benton ran out the clock.
The offense did its part, too, especially sophomore running back Jermaine Newton.
Newton rushed for 130 yards on 15 carries. He scored on a 26-yard and also had runs of 51 and 36 yards.
His biggest play gave the Tigers a 28-14 lead with about nine minutes left. Newton caught a pass from Garrett Hable and raced 49 yards for the score.
“He got some nice blocks on the outside, made a cutback and hit it and took off to the middle and was gone,” Moore said. “That was a really cool thing to watch him run tonight. He’s been really special when he gets in the open field and he did it again tonight.
“That was a big, big score. When they were playing two scores down instead of one it kind of changed what they needed to do.”
Benton sophomore quarterback Garrett Hable completed 12 of 22 passes for 155 yards.
Moore also said the offensive line deserves a lot of the credit for the Tigers’ success.
“We were able to run the ball real well in the first half,” he said. “Our line did a real good job. I was real, real proud of them.”
Benton never trailed in the game. The Tigers’ first TD came on a 54-yard pass from Hable to Clayton Festavan. Festavan and John Westmoreland both had two-point conversion receptions.
Newton’s 26-yard TD and Westmoreland’s conversion catch gave Benton a 14-0 lead. North DeSoto cut the lead to 14-7, but the Tigers went back up by two TDs on Chauncey Taylor’s 1-yard run.
At the half, Moore told his team that North DeSoto would come at them hard in the second.
“I said, ‘Guys, I think we’ve got a good football team and we wouldn’t quit right now,’ ” he said. “ ‘They’re not going to quit. They’re going to keep coming at you. You’re going to have to play for 24 minutes. This thing is way too close.”
The Griffins made the expected charge, but the Tigers proved to be more than up to the task.
Benton continues 1-4A play at home against Minden Thursday night. Last year, the Tide won in overtime, costing the Tigers the outright district championship.
Minden defeated Huntington 32-0 Friday for its third straight win. The Tide improved to 4-1 overall and 2-0 in district. Benton, Minden and Woodlawn are tied at the top of the 1-4A standings.
— Russell Hedges, email@example.com