When the Benton Tigers look back on the 2014 season, most of the memories will be good ones.
The Tigers won a share of the District 1-4A championship, their first title since 2008, current principal Mitch Downey’s last season as head coach. That was also the last time a Benton team won 10 games in a season. They reached the quarterfinals of the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
Friday’s 55-7 Class 4A quarterfinal playoff loss to the Warren Easton Fighting Eagles won’t be a pleasant memory. Warren Easton, a New Orleans charter school loaded with big-time talent, was simply the better team. The Tigers couldn’t match up with the Eagles physically or talent-wise.
Benton isn’t alone when it comes to that. Very few teams in the state can match up with the Fighting Eagles, who improved to 11-2, in those categories.
The loss does absolutely nothing to diminish what Benton, which finished 10-3, accomplished this season.
“I think this team has put Benton back where it belongs,” said second-year head coach Reynolds Moore. “Under coach Downey’s leadership they had a lot of success year in and year out. Nobody wanted to come over here and play. I don’t know if we’re at that level yet where nobody wants to come play, but I know that it’s a tough game. We went from four homecoming games last year to none this year. So I think people are starting to realize that our guys are a force to be reckoned with.”
According to a roster submitted to The Press-Tribune before the season, Benton had 24 seniors. The senior starters were wide receivers Stephens and Brayden Hutchinson; running backs KD Thomas and TJ Anderson; offensive linemen Tucker Fulco, Mitchell Matthews and Donovan Stewart; linebackers Gage Carroway, Jordan White and Jaret Gill; defensive linemen Keon Coleman and Nick Starkweather; and defensive backs Shane Cram and Cody Ratliff.
All of the seniors played a role in the team’s success, according to Moore.
“These seniors set the bar,” he said. “We asked them to do that this year, to come out and set the standard and just right the ship a little bit and get it back where it should be and they did. I think these underclassmen see what it takes now and they’ll follow suit next year.”
The Tigers actually hung with the Fighting Eagles for most of the first half, trailing just 13-0 late in the second quarter. And one of Warren Easton’s touchdowns came on a punt return by Tyron Johnson following Benton’s first possession of the game.
But the Fighting Eagles scored two touchdowns in the final minute of the half, including one with 7 seconds left. Warren Easton quarterback DeShawn Capers-Smith, a Texas A&M commitment, hit three big passes on an 80-yard TD drive. Then, following a good punt return, he connected with Darren Holmes in the end zone for a 44-yard score.
Johnson, ranked as the top wide receiver in the nation in the class of 2015 by some recruiting websites, returned the second-half kickoff 89 yards for a TD to make it 34-0.
Benton’s lone TD came on a pass from freshman Garrett Hable to senior Tyler Stephens in the third quarter.
According to the New Orleans Advocate, Capers-Smith completed 19 of 32 passes for 311 yards and three touchdowns.
While Benton will miss the seniors mentioned above next season, the cupboard won’t be bare.
Hable made steady progress. He took over as starter in Week 7 after coming off the bench late in the fourth quarter in Week 6 against Fair Park and leading the Tigers to a come-from-behind overtime victory.
Another freshman, Doyle Adams Jr., also saw a lot of playing time at running back and should be one of the focal points of the offense next season.
Big defensive lineman Chauncey Taylor, who also showed a knack for running the football, is only a junior as is speedy wide receiver and return man DorSavion Williams.
Sophomore receiver John Westmoreland also made some significant contributions to the Tigers’ success as did junior defensive back Xavier Washington. Sophomore receiver Ian McEntee saw action with the varsity. The Tigers should also have some experience on the line next season.
— Russell Hedges, email@example.com