Benton rebounds with ‘almost perfect game’ against Byrd

By HARRIET PROTHRO PENROD, Journal Sports

(NOTE – Each Tuesday this season, the SBJ spotlights the staff’s selection as the local “Team of the Week.”)

Right after Benton scored its first touchdown last Friday night, one of the daughters of Tigers’ head coach Reynolds Moore said from the stands: “Wouldn’t it would be crazy if we lose to Airline and then come back and beat Byrd!”

Crazy, indeed.

Just a week earlier, Airline spoiled Homecoming for Benton by defeating the Tigers 75-59 in their District 1-5A opener. And the week before that, Arch Manning and the Newman Greenies welcomed Benton to New Orleans and escaped with a 54-52 win over the Tigers. That’s two straight games where Benton scored 50+ points and lost.

So, when the Yellow Jackets went to Benton for the District 1-5A matchup last Friday night, the Tigers were looking to rebound from the Week 3 and 4 losses and even their district record to 1-1.

How difficult would the task be? Byrd went into the matchup ranked No. 7 in the LSWA Class 5A poll and No. 1 in the Shreveport-Bossier Journal Top 10. And this would be coming a week after the Yellow Jackets had defeated Captain Shreve – another Top 10 team in the state.

“This is who we have to rebound with?” Moore asked himself before taking on the Yellow Jackets.

Yep. And the Tigers rebounded in a big way, with a 63-28 victory over the Yellow Jackets. It was Benton’s first win over Byrd in three tries.

“It’s the biggest regular season win in school history – at least since I’ve been here,” said Moore, who has coached Benton for 10 years.

With the victory, Benton has been named the Journal’s “Team of the Week.”

“We almost played a perfect game,” said Moore. “That’s what it felt like. It’s disappointing in some ways when we realize this is what we’re capable of. We could be 4-1 or 5-0.”

The Tigers led 49-28 after the first half, which included seven touchdown passes by Gray Walters (four to Pearce Russell for 82, 34, 25, and 60 yards; two to Jeffrey King for 72 and 7 yards; and a 12-yarder to Greg Manning). Walters added a 67-yard touchdown pass to Andy Lim in the fourth quarter – eight TDs on 22-of-32 passing for 516 yards with no interceptions.

Russell finished with 12 catches for 267 yards and Manning added 123 yards on the ground on 28 carries.

Add to that the fact that Benton’s defense held Byrd scoreless in the second half – led by Sawyer Simmons, who had six tackles, one tackle for loss, and a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter – and it’s easy to see how Moore was impressed with the Tigers’ effort.

But it took some work.

During the week prior to the Byrd game, Moore had Walters split the first-team snaps with King, who had come into the game — and done a good job — during the Tigers’ Week 2 loss to Texas High following an injury to the starting quarterback.

“He was struggling with his confidence,” Moore said of Walters. “I wanted to push him and light a fire under him. For a day-and-a-half, he stepped up as Jeffrey took reps.”

The strategy worked. “We saw a different version of Gray Walters,” said Moore. 

Now, the Tigers (1-1, 2-3) are preparing for this Friday’s district matchup at Natchitoches Central (1-1, 2-3). And while Moore told his players to enjoy the big victory over the weekend, he wants to instill in them the need to follow it up with effort, focus, and attitude.

So he was planning on sharing a story with them: “When I was coaching in Brandon, Miss., we had a huge, emotional win over a Brandon High School team that we hadn’t beaten since 1985. There was an insane celebration. Then the next week, Vicksburg comes in and beats us by like 30. The Vicksburg players said when they were coming in town, they saw all the signs congratulating us on the big win.”

He doesn’t want that to happen again.

Contact Harriet at sbjharriet@gmail.com