PREVIEW: Panthers, Cyclones with title shot rematch

BLAKE FOGLEMAN/Special to The Saline Courier Benton senior fullback Brayden Harris runs in for a touchdown in last week’s 56-52 win over the Jonesboro Hurricane on the road. The Panthers head to Russellville to take on the Cyclones in the 6A semifinals today for a shot at the state title. Kickoff is 7 p.m. at Cyclone Stadium. BLAKE FOGLEMAN/Special to The Saline Courier
Staff Writer

The Benton Panthers pulled off a shocker in an instant classic this past Friday night in a 56-52 marathon victory over the Jonesboro Hurricane on the road. The reason it was a shocker was the fact that Benton was the West No. 4 seed and the Hurricane was the East’s No. 1 team.
And that’s in spite of the Panthers committing five turnovers in the win. The Hurricane actually outgained Benton 577-443 in total yardage and committed two less turnovers than the Panthers, but the Benton defense stopped the Hurricane big-play offense when it needed to secure victory and its third straight trip to the 6A state semifinals. Benton went to the 6A championship game in 2014 before falling to Pine Bluff in the final, and fell to Greenwood last year in the semis.
Senior running back Brandon Hunter had a Hunter-esque game busting out for 224 yards on 30 carries and three touchdowns, including an 83-yarder. After senior quarterback Nate Beck struggled for much of the second half, he came up big on Benton’s last drive of the night, running 7 yards for a first down on third-and-6 and completing 6 of 7 passes for 64 yards including the game-winning 11-yard TD pass to junior Clayton Maertens, Maertens’ first TD of the season.
But, the Panthers (8-4) will be taking on a familiar foe this Friday when they travel to Russellville to take on the Cyclones. Russellville, the West No. 2 seed, defeated Benton 45-24 in Week 4, taking advantage of Panther turnovers, and beat the East No. 3 seed West Memphis 34-7 last week to advance to the semis vs. Benton. The Cyclones improved to 10-1 on the year with their only loss coming to the West No. 1 Greenwood Bulldogs (27-24) and it’s only the third time in Russellville’s history of hitting the 10-win plateau.
The Cyclones are led by senior quarterback Cale Fulsom, who has thrown for 2,264 yards on 193 of 299 (65 percent) passing for 20 TDs vs. seven interceptions. Fulsom has also run for 323 and five TDs, while junior Josiah Woodard leads Russellville on the ground with 533 yards and eight TDs. Senior 6-4 receiver Caleb Stokes has 60 catches for 848 yards and eight TDs.
Benton and Russellville will kick off at 7 p.m. Friday at Cyclones Stadium.