Looking back has taught Benton not to look ahead

GRAY MATTERS:  Quarterback Gray Walters has been the point man for Benton’s prolific offense. (File photo by PETER FOREST, Journal Sports)

By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports

Benton coach Reynolds Moore is hoping that a lesson learned five years ago will pay off this week as his team prepares for its Non-Select Division I second-round playoff game at home Friday night against Denham Springs.

In 2017, the Tigers were 10-0 in the regular season and basically scored at will against everyone they played. Benton was the No. 3 seed entering the playoffs and then put up a 56-spot in a four-touchdown win in the first round against Breaux Bridge.

“I had people telling me in church that they already had their rooms reserved for the Superdome (Classic),” Moore said.

Hope those weren’t non-refundable rooms.

Cecilia, the No. 14 seed, came in and put the brakes on the Benton offense, which had averaged 48.2 points per game. Final: Cecilia 23, Benton 21.

“I still believe we might have been the second-best team in the state that year,” Moore said, “but we got caught looking ahead.”

This year, Benton is a No. 8 seed and coming off a 41-7 win over Ponchatoula last week. But there is such a thing as good playoff momentum as well as bad playoff momentum.

“What I have to be mindful of is parents and fans looking ahead and asking ‘What about the quarterfinals?’” Moore said. “It’s like (Ole Miss coach) Lane Kiffin says – that’s rat poison.”

The winner of the Denham Springs-Benton game will get a chance to (1) be playing after Thanksgiving (a preseason goal for many teams) and (2) have a potential matchup with top-seeded Ruston.

“I just don’t want anybody looking ahead,” Moore said. “That’s the message this week because all I want is to be focused on Denham Springs. They are a very good team with a lot of talent. We’ve got our work cut out for us. If we get to the quarterfinals, we will worry about that Saturday morning.”

There’s plenty to worry about in the meantime. Denham Springs (9-2) is also riding in off a big win in the opening round (39-6 over Covington). Quarterback Reese Mooney is expected to sign with Liberty, a Top 25 team a week ago. The Yellow Jackets also have an offensive line that averages about 280 pounds and a pair of strong running backs in Cam-Ron Kelly and Ray McKneely.

But Benton (8-3) doesn’t take a back seat to anybody when it comes to offense. Quarterback Gray Walters has thrown for 2,600 yards and 31 touchdowns, wide receiver Pearce Russell has 85 catches for 1,448 yards and running back Greg Manning has 1,341 yards and 25 rushing touchdowns. All rank among state leaders.

“We feel good about it,” Moore said. “We feel like we can score with anybody and we are going to need to get a few stops (on defense). We just want to make sure we are locked in and focused on Friday night and not anything beyond that. I genuinely believe we can beat anybody if we are healthy and play our brand of football.”

That also brings Moore back to another history lesson for Benton football. “We played Warren Easton (in the 2014 quarterfinals) and I knew it was going to take a miracle to beat them,” Moore said.

He was right. Warren Easton won that game 55-7. In the only other quarterfinal appearance (2016), Benton lost 59-13 to Edna Karr.

“I don’t feel that way this year,” Moore said. “We will have to play well to beat the teams that are left. But the trick is to play the team that you are on the field with and not worry about what’s down the road.”

As excited as the Tigers might be, they’ll have a hard time matching their coach. “I never went to the playoffs when I was playing high school in Mississippi,” Moore said. “So I never experienced that as a player. There’s just nothing like it.”

Contact JJ at johnjamesmarshall@yahoo.com 

9-Denham Springs (9-2) at 8-Benton (8-3) 

Where: Mason-Newman Field at Tiger Stadium 

Series: First meeting 

Last week: Denham Springs beat Covington 39-6; Benton beat Ponchatoula 41-7 

Rankings: Benton received votes in LSWA 5A poll 

All-time playoff record:  Denham Springs 15-23; Benton 35-34-1 

Radio: Benton (The Light 92.1 FM;  http://69.64.65.171:8192/ksyr) 

Notables: Benton rides a seven-game win streak into Friday … A victory would give the Tigers (8-3) their first berth into the quarterfinals since they jumped to Class 5A in 2019. Benton last reached the third round in the 2016 Class 4A playoffs, where it lost to Edna Karr. The Tigers lost to Ruston in the second round last season … The Yellow Jackets are fresh off an easy victory against Covington, but they also failed to get out of the second round last season (lost to Ouachita Parish).