By TEDDY ALLEN, Journal Sports
HAUGHTON — As long as linemen love bacon, as long as quarterbacks date cheerleaders and running backs wear bruises like badges of honor, all who were here and all who’ll hear about it will never forget Benton 78, Haughton 71.
“That was a basketball game,” said Benton senior quarterback Gray Walters, who was responsible for much of the madness by completing 23 of 33 passes for 248 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions, and either rushing or scrambling for 107 yards.
“Been doing this 26 years,” said Haughton quarterbacks coach Kyle Wilkerson, “and I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Might never see anything like it again,” Haughton assistant Josh O’Nishea said.
“We got in a shootout and lost to Newman, 54-52,” Benton coach Reynolds Moore said, “but that was nothing like this.”
“I knew during warm-ups (it would be this type game),” Haughton head coach Jason Brotherton said afterward in the calm of his office, a world away from what had finished less than half-hour ago out the back door on a perfect October night for football at Harold E. Harlan Stadium.
“I just knew,” he said. “I know what we can do on offense. I know how they play offensively. I’m not saying I knew it would be in the 70’s, but it was gonna take a bunch to win.
“I think I said yesterday we might need 70 to win. I was wrong. We needed 80.”
Well … 79, anyway.
Benton is 5-3, 4-1 in District 1-5A and has scored more than 50 points in its past six games. Haughton is 4-4, 2-3, and has the odd sensation of having scored 10 touchdowns in one game — that’s a good month for some teams — and losing.
Just as a quick starter-kit glance, the score was 14-14 after the first quarter, 35-28 Benton at half, and 56-42 Haughton going into the fourth when Benton outscored the Bucs, 36-15.
The Tigers and Bucs traded touchdowns and extra points until 6:51 was left in Friday night’s game. Benton’s Ethan Johnson scored on a pick six to pull his team within a point of a tie, 63-62. Moore decided to go for two, and senior Landon Duggan scored from the wildcat formation for Benton’s 64-63 lead.
“I thought maybe we could change the momentum,” Moore said. “I’d told our coaches if we scored again we were going to go for two and try to put this thing away.”
It seemed the Tigers finally had when a fumble recovered by Benton set up junior running back Greg Manning for the seventh of his school-record eight touchdowns on the night and pushed Benton’s lead to 71-63 with 2:34 left.
But … Haughton’s Jalen Lewis returned the ensuing kickoff 75 yards for a score, his second kickoff return for a touchdown of the night. Crazy.
Then Haughton went for two and the tie, and got it on a pass from Colin Rains to Jamarion Montgomery in the left flat to make it 71-71 with 2:20 left — in this game, an eternity.
It took the Tigers nine plays to go 84 yards, the final 30 on a burst by Manning, who earlier in the game had begged his coaches, “Don’t throw the ball! Give it to me!”
They did, for a school-record 278 yards on 32 carries. After his final touch and Peyton May’s 10th extra point kick, Benton led 78-71 with 0:48 left.
It wasn’t decided until Benton’s Johnson picked off a deep-ball try from Rains around the Tigers’ 35, where their victory formation put an exclamation point on the night.
“We made one more play than they did,” Moore told his team afterward. “We made enough mistakes for two or three games, but you kept fighting, and made one more play.”
Haughton workhorse Tyler Rhodes and the offensive line combined for 279 yards on 27 attempts, a 10.3 yards-per-rush average. Rains rushed 11 times for 126 yards and three scores.
With all those scores, with all the onside kicks and kick returns for touchdowns, with all the drive-stopping interceptions and fumbles, this classic came down to two or three plays, same as your ordinary, everyday 14-10 brawl — (if anyone remembers those).
Haughton had stolen a couple possessions early with successful onsides kicks turned into touchdowns for a 28-14 lead when Benton faced a fourth-and-9 from its own 34. The Bucs had a scrambling Walters hemmed up as they did much of the night, but each time he ran and weaved and stayed on his feet, all so unrehearsed. He threw passes to receivers who didn’t as much run routes as they ran to open spots, where Walters would find them.
“Just trying to make a play,” he said.
On this crucial fourth down, he finally pitched the ball forward over two leaping defenders to Manning, like a shortstop’s pitch to a second baseman, and Manning spun and ran 42 yards. Benton scored three plays later and trailed by only a touchdown, 28-21.
“I heard (Manning) yelling my name and I just pitched it,” Walters said. “He did the rest. He’s the best back I’ve ever played with.”
“Stop them there up by two scores, and you have a chance to go up by three touchdowns,” Brotherton said. “That’s a big one. We just couldn’t get off the field a couple of times.”
Benton was 7-of-10 on third down, 1-1 on fourth. But Haughton was good too: 4-of-6 on third down and 1-of-1 on fourth.
Everything was just razor thin.
“Once they got up by two scores, we knew we were in a dogfight,” said Benton senior offensive lineman Cameron McCormack, whose back Manning ran up much of the night. “I felt like I had to make every block, every time. It felt like every single play was pivotal.”
“You don’t really know what to tell your guys after a game like that,” Brotherton said. “I told them it hurts, I know. But if it means anything to you right now, you’ll never forget this game. It might not be a great memory, but you’ll always be a part of something really special. People around here are gonna be talking about this game forever.”
Contact Teddy at firstname.lastname@example.org
Benton 78, Haughton 71
Score by quarters
Benton | 14 | 21 | 7 | 36 | – 78
Haughton | 14 | 14 | 28 | 15 | – 71
B – Greg Manning 4 run (Peyton May kick)
H – Tyler Rhodes 57 run (Carter Ebarb kick)
H – John Ecot 8 pass from Colin Rains (Ebarb kick)
B – Manning 4 run (May kick)
H – Rhodes 1 run (Ebarb kick)
H – Ecot 7 pass from Rains (Ebarb kick)
B – Manning 7 pass from Gray Walters (May kick)
B – Landon Duggan 1 run (May kick)
B – Andy Lim 4 pass from Walters (May kick)
H – Rhodes 6 run (Ebarb kick)
B – Manning 32 run (May kick)
H – Jalen Lewis 78 kickoff return (Ebarb kick)
H – Jamarion Montgomery 10 pass from Rains (Ebarb kick)
H – Rhodes 26 run (Ebarb kick)
B – Manning 20 run (May kick)
H – Rashard Douglas 57 kickoff return (Ebarb kick)
B – Manning 11 run (May kick)
B – Ethan Johnson 40 interception return (Duggan run)
B – Manning 28 run (May kick)
H – Lewis 75 kickoff return (Montgomery pass from Rains)
B – Manning 30 run (May kick)
Benton (50-387) – Manning 32-278, Walters 15-107, Duggan 1-1, Cole Austin 1-1.
Haughton (38-349) – Rhodes 27-279, Rains 9-74.
Benton – Walters 23-33-3, 248 yards, 2 TDs.
Haughton – Rains 11-18-2, 126 yards, 3 TDs.
Benton – Russell 10-113, Jeffrey King 4-55, Manning 4-52, Lim 3-23, Brady Blaylock 2-5.
Haughton – Lewis 2-49, Douglas 2-50-38728, Montgomery 2-23, Ecot 4-22, Trent McGowen 1-4.