By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports
Benton head coach Reynolds Moore talked during the week about how Thursday’s game against Newman was going to go a long way toward determining how the rest of the season was going to shape up for his Tigers.
After a 37-21 loss to the Greenies at Tiger Stadium, the results are in: Moore still doesn’t know.
“I think we found our identity on offense,” Moore said. “I thought we had a better second half, but still not what we want. We got to have 11 guys on both sides of the ball selling out.”
The offensive identity didn’t show until things were getting desperate for the Tigers – Newman led 23-0 midway through the second quarter – but after that, it was pretty impressive.
Running back Greg Manning rushed for 224 yards and three touchdowns while quarterback Jeff King threw for 211 yards and ran for 52 more.
“Between (numbers) 1 (Manning) and 6 (King), the team is going to go as they go,” Moore said. “When they make plays like they did tonight, the team rallies around that.”
Meanwhile, Newman was rallying around junior quarterback Eli Friend. He may not make Newman fans forget about Arch Manning, last year’s No. 1 national recruit, but Benton fans would sure like to forget about Friend.
He threw for 302 yards (completing 24 of 33) and ran for 97 more. He either threw or ran for all five Newman touchdowns.
“For good reason, you heard so much about Arch last year, but we really felt good about Eli this year,” Newman coach Nelson Stewart said. “This was probably his best night of throwing the football, plus his ability to extend plays with his legs.”
Friend led an impressive display in the first half, taking the Class 2A third-ranked Greenies down the field in seven plays on their first possession. Newman never had a third down on the drive and Friend, who completed passes of 24 and 17 yards, ran it in from 21 yards for the first score.
While the Tigers were trying to find their offense, Newman had another impressive drive going 65 yards in 10 plays. Benton had a chance to get off the field, but the Greenies came up with a 41-yard completion to Peter Loop. Friend scored seven plays later from a yard out.
A blocked punt resulted in a safety in the second quarter and Newman followed that with another touchdown as Friend found Anthony Jones open in the end zone for a 17-yard score.
“Their offense is as fast as you are going to see in Louisiana,” Stewart said of the Tigers. “We thought was really important to jump on them early.”
The Tigers ditched their normal offense and went to the Wildcat formation, snapping the ball directly to Manning. In the third play of the new offense formation, Manning looked to be stopped on a run up the middle, but bounced out to the left and outraced the Greenie defenders for a 58-yard score to make it 23-7.
Though it seemed as though Newman was in control throughout, when the fourth quarter began Benton was within two scoring possessions of tying the game.
But the Tigers turned the ball over on downs on their first two possessions of the fourth quarter. They did get a late touchdown on a 10-yard pass from King to Jackson Jones, but only 16 seconds remained and Benton failed on the two-point conversion.
“I’m proud of our guys for fighting back,” Moore said.
“Once the game settled down, we had to get into a game management situation,” Stewart said. “Those kids (the Tigers) didn’t quit. This is a big for us and we knew it was going to be a fight for us to get out of here with a win.”
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Newman 37, Benton 27
N 14 9 14 0 – 37
B 0 7 14 6 – 27
N – Eli Friend 21 run (Jacob Dusansky kick)
N – Friend 1 run (Dusansky kick)
N – Safety, punt blocked out of end zone
N – Anthony Jones 17 pass from Friend (Dusansky kick)
B – Greg Manning 58 run (Will Petro kick)
N – Friend 12 run (Dusansky kick)
B – Manning 36 run (Petro kick)
N – Peter Loop 10 pass from Friend (Dusansky kick)
B – Manning 5 run (Petro kick)
B – Jackson Jones 10 pass from Jeff King (pass failed)
RUSHING – Newman (32-166), Friend 15-97, Jake Randle 17-69. Benton (42-276), Manning 27-224, King 14-52.
PASSING – Newman (24-33-0-302-3), Friend 25-32-0-302. Benton (17-28-0-211-1), King 16-28-0-211-1.
RECEIVING – Newman, Peter Loop 6-98, Anthony Jones 6-91, Randle 4-30, Will Loerzel 4-58, George Loop 1-3, Collier Villere 1-12, DJ Thomas 1-14, Griffin Maxwell 1-minus-4. Benton, Jones 8-102, Kam Smith 3-46, Cody Wilhite 2-26, Manning 3-37, Wade Chandler 1-10.