BENTON — With 1:15 left in the opening quarter, the Bryant Blue Hornets eighth grade team of Bethel Middle School held an 8-6 lead on the 7-1 Benton Panthers eighth graders. But little went right for the Hornets the rest of the half as Benton reeled of 28 points to take a 34-8 lead at the half.
To their credit, the Hornets kept after it in the second half and outscored the Panthers 18-6 to cut the margin to 40-26. But a late score by the Panthers sealed their 48-26 victory to complete the 2017 season for both teams.
Bethel finishes the season 3-5 highlighted by their 16-14 win over Bryant White in the Hornet Bowl.
Benton scored on four consecutive possessions in the first half then capped off the onslaught when Cameron Harris returned a punt 45 yards for a fifth score of the half. Two of the other scores were set up by fumbled kickoff returns with a third cued up by an interception.
It looked like it might be Bethel’s night when, on the first play of the game, Leyton Dickerson forced a fumble by Benton’s Casey Johnson. Michael Suddeth recovered for the Hornets.
But things went the other way quickly. Fabian Torres started the Hornets’ first series with a 16-yard bolt deep into Benton territory. But the play was called back due to a penalty and the Hornets couldn’t over come that.
They faced a fourth-and-15 at the Benton 44. Setting up to punt, the Hornets’ Brandon Jones took the deep snap and tried to throw for a first down. But his throw was dropped and Benton took over on downs.
Two plays later, Jefferson set sail on a 48-yard touchdown run to put the first points on the board.
Bryant Blue recovered an onside kick and, with a short field, drove for an answering score. Tyler Bates picked up 7 yards to convert a third down. A play later, quarterback Carson Burnett ripped a 22-yard scamper that set up Torres’ 9-yard touchdown run. He added a run for a two-point conversion and the Hornets led.
Benton covered an onside kick at midfield and, two plays later, Harris broke a 33-yard run for a touchdown. Quarterback Gianni Vanucci ran in the two-point conversion and the Panthers led 14-8.
But it was set to be the Hornets’ turn only to have the cross-field kickoff get away. Benton recovered 34 yards away from the end zone. They reached it in three plays. Vanucci’s 15-yard pass to Cain Simmons extended the margin to 20-8.
The next cross-field kickoff went out of bounds to the Hornets had their first possession since they led. But, on the first two snaps, they were thrown for losses. On third-and-long, Burnett’s deep pass was picked off by Simmons.
On first down at their own 43, the Panthers picked up big yardage as Vanucci found Andre Lane for 30 yards. Johnson, who rushed for 126 yards on 14 carries, took it in from 8 yards out and it was 26-8.
Another muffed kickoff cost the Hornets possession but the defense rose up and, after Harris rolled for 22 yards, the drive for Benton was turned back after it reached the Hornets’ 1. A loss of 4 on a run by Johnson turned the ball over on downs.
A holding penalty cost Bryant Blue, negating a 21-yard run by Torres. Though they’d pushed out from their 5 to the 30, the Hornets couldn’t overcome the penalty and had to punt. A low liner was caught by Harris on the run and he wove his way through the coverage to paydirt.
And when Johnson ran in the two-point conversion, it was 34-8.
Bryant got the ball to start the third quarter and drove 53 yards in 10 plays capped off by Andrew Stueve’s 31-yard burst for the TD.
Benton answered with its own scoring drive. The Hornets were on the verge of stopping the drive at their 42. But, on a third-and-10, Vanucci found Lane again for a touchdown, making it 40-14.
But the Hornets wouldn’t go away. After having several passes dropped or just miss, Burnett had one caught by Blake Everett that covered 40 yards. The duo hooked up for two more completions on the drive then Torres turned in 13-yard burst to the 2.
On a third-and-1 there, Torres was dropped for a loss of 2 only to come back on fourth down to score, trimming the margin to 40-20.
And the Hornets got the ball back. Austin Williams recovered a fumble on the kickoff return to set up an 18-yard TD strike from Burnett to Dickerson to make the lead just 14 with 4:22 still to play.
But the Panthers used most of that clock driving for a final touchdown. They had one scoring play negated by penalty but two plays later Johnson dashed 16 yards for the points. Vanucci’s run for 2 set the final score with under a minute left.
The Hornets fought right down to the wire. Torres dashed for 17 yards and, a play later, Burnett found Issac Devine for 24 yards but time ran out before they could get another play started.