By SCOTT ANDERSON, Journal Sports
BENTON — Benton’s defense shut down Ponchatoula’s two-headed running attack and the Tigers’ explosive offense overcame a slow start of its own as BHS posted a convincing 41-7 victory in the first round of the LHSAA Non-Select Division I state football playoffs Friday night at Mason-Newman Field at Tiger Stadium.
The Tiger defense held Green Wave quarterback Bishop Davis and running back Andrew Cangelosi to 64 combined yards in the first half as eighth-seeded Benton scored three times in the second quarter to build a commanding 28-0 lead. Ponchy got better production afterward, but not nearly enough.
“They like to run the ball, and we did a great job stopping them,” said Benton coach Reynolds Moore. “Great effort. They tackled well. We knew they didn’t throw it well. I was impressed with the defensive effort.”
Benton (8-3) slipped right out of the gate. On the first play from scrimmage, senior quarterback Gray Walters missed Pearce Russell on what was ruled a backward pass that 25th-seeded Ponchatoula (5-6) recovered.
Six plays later, Benton defensive back Ethan Johnson intercepted a Davis pass at the 10, halting the threat. Johnson returned it 90 yards for an apparent pick-six, called back for a block in the back.
That was the visitors’ best shot as Walters posted four touchdown throws by halftime.
Leading 7-0 after one quarter, Benton’s offense took control in the second stanza as the rain and the wind picked up.
“As soon as we got a rhythm going, we were fine,” Walters said. “The defense has been playing really good the past couple of weeks, and they came out and played really, really well.”
Walters hit Russell for an 18-yard strike with 9:01 left in the first half.
Kicker Peyton May successfully recovered an onside kick, giving the Tigers the ball back on Ponchatoula’s 48-yard-line. Walters capped an 11-play drive with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Russell with 6:04 to go.
The Benton defense held the Green Wave again. Punrwe Nolan Tribble fumbled the snap in the rain, and the Tigers took over at Ponchatoula’s 28. Three plays later, Benton closed the half with a 7-yard touchdown pass from Walters to Andy Lim.
Ponchatoula made a substitution in the second half that gave the Green Wave a spark out of the locker room. Senior Brant Monistere came in on the first drive and scored on a 45-yard run on the visitors’ first series in the third quarter.
But senior defensive lineman Kaleb Tree and the rest of the Tiger defense rose to the challenge and shut out Ponchatoula the rest of the way.
“I thought they did a really good job,” Moore said. “It’s one of those games where the secondary didn’t have many tackles, because they didn’t get by much.”
The Benton offense had a balanced approach with the run and the passing game. Running back Greg Manning ran for two touchdowns and caught one of Walters’ four touchdown passes.
Russell caught two touchdowns to pad his state-leading total.
“It’s important to run the ball on nights like this,” Walters said. “When we run the ball, it sets up everything for the passing game.”
Benton advances to the second round of the playoffs. The Tigers will host Denham Springs next Friday.
Moore had a simple message for his team after the game.
“Keep getting better,” he said. “We made it to Week 12 now. If you want to get to 13, 14 and 15, you’ve got to play better than we did tonight.”
He said his team has been on a special run since a 1-3 start to the year.
“I told the whole team this week it was tough coming back to practice into the spring without my son (’22 graduate R.J.) on the team,” he said. “I genuinely believe this senior bunch, this team right here, is God’s gift to me to help me get through coaching my first season without him.”
Contact Scott at email@example.com
Benton 41, Ponchatoula 7
Score by quarters
Benton | 7 | 21 | 13 | 0 | – 41
Ponchatoula | 0 | 0 | 7 | 0 | – 7
B — Greg Manning 8 pass from Gray Walters (Peyton May kick)
B — Pearce Russell 18 pass from Walters (May kick)
B — Russell 23 pass from Walters (May kick)
B — Andy Lim 8 pass from Walters (May kick)
P — Brant Monistere 45 run (John Cranford kick)
B — Manning 2 run (kick failed)
B — Manning 8 run (May kick)
Ponchatoula (44-209) — Brant Monistere 8-78, Bishop Davis 20-65, Andrew Cangelosi 15-27.
Benton (34-120) — Greg Manning 23-61, Walters 3-43, Landon Cole Austin 3-8, Duggan 2-8.
Ponchatoula — Bishop Davis 0-5-0.
Benton — Gray Walters 16-22-0, 235 yards; Jeff King 0-1-0.
Benton —Russell 7-120, Andy Lim 3-18, Jeff King 2-40, Manning 1-9, Jackson Jones 1-8, Brady Blaylock 1-6.