Coaching legend Vince Lombardi once said, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” If Mr. Lombardi is correct, the 2018 Benton Panthers football season can be labeled an unmitigated success with a 10-3 record.
For head coach Brad Harris, the journey began when the 2017 season ended. The final record, eight wins against five losses.
“Our guys had a tremendous off-season,” says Harris. “We talked about playing in week 14 of the season even back during our off-season workouts. Our guys really bought into everything we did and I think that was a huge positive for us this past season.”
Going into the 2018 season, the team goal was to get to the state championship game. “We didn’t talk about winning a conference championship, we talked about playing for a state championship. We want all of our players to have the mentality to play for state championships,” says Harris.
“One of our mottoes this year was CTG – which means Change The Game. This was a reminder for our players that every day they step on the field they have the opportunity to impact the game on every play, regardless of if it is on offense, defense, special teams, or from the sideline as a supporter of the team.”
First focus? Defense and special teams. “We had to replace seven defensive starters from 2017. I would say it was the biggest concern coming into this season.”
Kelby Caffrey came back to the team after not playing as a junior. “He was the biggest surprise for us,” says Harris. “He ended up starting as our strong safety and leading the team defensively.” Camron Ross, free safety, “really played well this year after making a position move. He led the team in tackles.”
On special teams, “We still struggled at times with our kickers until Garrett Eason came back from injury about mid season.” Sophomore Preston Barker was a huge surprise. “Going into the state championship, he only had two punts returned for a total return of two yards. That is due to Preston doing a great job with our directional punting and our coverage team.”
After an abbreviated Salt Bowl lead to the first loss of the season, the Panthers went on a six-game winning streak, outscoring their opponents 305 to 107. During this stretch, Harris says, “I thought we played really good football”.
During the Siloam Spring game, starting senior quarterback Colen Morrow was lost to injury. Most teams would have folded, but the chance to catch excellence continued and players stepped up to fill the void.
Sophomore Garrett Brown replaced Morrow. “Our offense did a good job of rallying around our sophomore. During this stretch we relied heavily on our run game of Zak Wallace and D’Anthony Harper. Going into Week 7 and a matchup with El Dorado, we knew we had to play a great game, and our guys responded well with a huge win against a good El Dorado team. Next, the matchup we had a hoped for and a chance to play Greenwood for a conference championship. I told the guys they were ready to play the defending state champs and thought we had a great chance to beat them at their place.”
In the third quarter, Greenwood broke the game open and the Panthers suffered their second loss of the season. The team refocused and won four more games before facing Greenwood again for the state championship.
Unfortunately, the outcome was the same as their previous bout.
“After the game, I told our players how proud I was of them for their efforts throughout the season and how much of an impact they had on our program, school, and our community. This is only the third Benton team ever to play for a state championship, only the third team ever to win ten games, so they have a lot to be proud of and nothing to hang their heads about. They helped get our team to a place we want to be at every year.”
Several players had a standout season. Zac Harris “was our guy” this year, as a player and a leader. Gaining more than 1,500 rushing yards, he now holds the All-Time record for the Panthers.
Joshua George anchored the offensive line at center, helping lead the team on offense.
Wide receivers Gavin Wells, Michael Allison and Garrett Body had more than 600 yards each.
Senior quarterback Colen Morrow was having a great year until his injury in the Siloam Springs game. Sophomore QB Garrett Brown came in and managed to throw for 2,000 plus yards, a tremendous year for a sophomore.
On defense, Camron Ross led the team in tackles with 158, an all-time single season record at Benton. Kelby Caffrey was our most explosive player on defense. He led the team in interceptions, with several quarterback sacks and tackles for loss. Devin Griffin was the team’s best cover corner and always had the task of covering the opposing team’s best wide receiver.
Kyvin Carroll, a senior linebacker, had another solid season and did a great job of playing with great energy every week.
Dylan Ferguson did a great job of pressuring the quarterback from his defensive end position.
Coach Harris has the program moving in the right direction. But more than that, the city and fans of the team are behind their beloved Panthers.
Coach Lombardi also said, “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.”
Clearly, our Panthers have shown the will and strength of character to pursue perfection, and in the process have attained excellence.