By JERRY BYRD, Journal Sports
Benton head coach Reynolds Moore wanted to light a fire under his starting quarterback Gray Walters this week. He didn’t allow Walters to get all of the snaps with the first team in practice.
Nobody could tell the difference Friday night at Tiger Stadium. Walters got the message and completed 22 of 32 passes for 516 yards — including eight touchdown passes — as he led Benton to a stunning 63-28 win over previously unbeaten C.E. Byrd.
“I wanted to push him and light a fire under him,” Moore said. “He responded in a big, big-time kind of way. He had his confidence back up, and that was big.”
“By far, it’s the best night of my career,” Walters said. “It felt good. I don’t think I’ve played my best so far in these first four weeks. They’ve been talking to me and telling me to calm down. And just take pressure off myself. It felt really good to come out here and do that tonight.”
It’s Benton’s first win over the Yellow Jackets since the Tigers joined District 1-5A in 2019, and Moore said it may be the biggest regular season win in school history.
The Yellow Jackets came into Benton ranked seventh in the state’s LSWA Top 10 poll and No. 1 in the Shreveport-Bossier Journal Top 10. A week after a big District 1-5A opening victory over another state Top 20 team, Captain Shreve, Byrd headed home 4-1. Benton picked up its second win in five games and leveled its district slate at 1-1 after starting with that 75-59 homefield loss to Airline a week earlier.
Benton’s win was quite the upset. How it unfolded was equally surprising.
“Some people may argue with me,” Moore said. “But I think it’s the biggest regular season win in school history. It’s definitely the biggest win since I’ve been here.”
It couldn’t have come at a better time for the Benton Tigers after scoring 52 and 59 points in losses to Newman and Airline in the last two weeks.
“I was torn because I believe in this football team,” Moore said. “I told them all week that if you go out and play like you’re capable of playing, you can play with anybody and you can beat anybody. I think they tapped into full potential tonight.”
It didn’t take the Tigers long to get the night started. On Benton’s third snap, Walters found Pearce Russell on a deep post route for an 82-yard touchdown.
On the first play of the second drive, Walters connected with Jeffery King – again on a post route – on a 72-yard bomb.
Byrd’s Lake Lambert answered with a 57-yard touchdown strike to Jackson Dufrene.
Russell caught two more touchdown passes, for 34 and 25 yards, in the explosive first quarter.
Meanwhile, Byrd found unconventional ways to score. First, it was a 35-yard scoop and score by Jude Partington. Then, Christian Jones scored on an 80-yard kickoff return.
It added up to 49 points combined after the first quarter. Benton led 28-21. Mercy!
Not hardly. In the second quarter, Walters threw touchdown passes to Russell, Greg Manning, and King. Byrd scored on a 41-yard run by Malachi Johnson.
It was 49-28 Benton at the break. The Tigers were not only a surprise leader, they were dominant.
For Byrd, it went from bad to worse in the second half as Lambert was knocked unconscious with 9:10 left in the third quarter. Lambert regained consciousness and told medical staff that he took a shot in his jaw. He was taken to Bossier Medical Center for further evaluation.
Benton’s defense was led by Sawyer Simmons, who had six tackles including one tackle for a loss and an interception return for a touchdown.
Benton’s final score of the night came on a 67-yard touchdown pass from Walters to Andy Lim.
Russell finished with 12 catches for 267 yards including four touchdowns, and to top it off, goes into the school record book for receiving yardage.
“It’s for sure the best night of my career,” Russell said. “The offensive line played great. Gray had one of the best games I’ve ever seen him play. And the looks they gave us, we just thought we could get open.”
Benton will go on the road to Natchitoches Central next Friday night. Byrd will host Haughton on Friday.
Contact Jerry at firstname.lastname@example.org
Benton 63, Byrd 28
Score by quarters
Byrd | 20 | 8 | 0 | 0 | – 28
Benton | 28 | 21 | 7 | 7 | – 63
Ben – Pearce Russell 82 pass from Gray Walters (Peyton May kick)
Ben – Jeffery King 72 pass from Walters (May kick)
By – Jackson Dufrene 57 pass from Lake Lambert (Abram Murray kick)
Ben – Russell 34 pass from Walters (May kick)
By – Jude Partington 65 fumble return (Murray kick)
Ben – Russell 25 pass from Walters (May kick)
By – Christian Jones 80 kickoff return (Murray kick)
Ben – Russell 60 pass from Walters (May kick)
Ben – Greg Manning 12 pass from Walters (May kick)
By – Malachi Johnson 41 run (Murray kick)
Ben – King 7 pass from Walters (May kick)
Ben – Sawyer Simmons 40 interception return (May kick)
Ben – Andy Lim 67 pass from Walters (May kick)
Rushing: Byrd (35-176), M. Johnson 9-95, Devon Strickland 8-42, Tyler Nichols 4-26, Dixon Poirier 4-18. Benton (41-162), G. Manning 28-123, Walters 6-34, C. Austin 5-16.
Passing: Byrd, Lambert 2-4-1, 86 yards, 1 TD. Benton, Walters 22-32-0, 516 yards, 8 TDs
Receiving: Byrd, J. Dufrene 2-86. Benton, Russell 12-267, Lim 4-118, King 3-90, Manning 3-41.