BENTON — Benton running back Jermaine Newton limped around with a bag of ice tapped to his ankle. Sophomore quarterback Garrett Hable left knowing there’s still plenty of room for improvement. Head coach Reynolds Moore took a few deep breaths, before exhaling a sigh of relief.
Just another Friday night in District 1-4A.
The Tigers defense stuffed North DeSoto on fourth down on three different occasions and sniffed out two fake punt attempts to knock off the previously unbeaten Griffins, 28-21 at Tiger Stadium. Hable, who entered the game as the area’s leading passer, struggled at times and threw a near-costly fourth-quarter interception, but did just enough to lead his team to victory.
“This is a huge win,” the sophomore quarterback said. “We were coming here and people were saying we were underdogs. This is a good win at home.”
Hable and the Tigers (4-1, 2-0) did most of their damage in the first half, jumping out to a 20-7 lead over Griffins (4-1, 1-1). Newton piled up 121 yards on the ground, including a 26-yard touchdown run and a 50-yard run to set up a 1-yard plunge from Chauncy Taylor. But it was a screen play with less than 6 minutes to go in the fourth quarter that was the difference for the Tigers.
Newton caught the ball near his own sideline, eluded a couple defenders and hurdled another on his way to a 49-yard touchdown.
“We were excited about him as a sophomore, because we thought we was somebody who could break away like he showed there at the end,” Moore said of his running back. “When you have that kind of top end speed and burst, it’s exciting to watch.”
North DeSoto coach Scott Abernathy felt the opposite of excited watching his offense in the first half. A few adjustments in the locker room helped the Griffins control the ball and the clock for the entire second half, limiting the Tigers to negative rushing yards and only the lone scoring play. But that proved to be the back-breaker giving the Griffins their first loss of the season.
“Their defensive line abused us up front, but we still had every opportunity to win the ball game,” Abernathy said. “I don’t think I aligned us very well in the first half, which is why they were able to run the ball. They’re a good offense and we are as well, but they just played better defensively than we did tonight.”
The Griffins rushed for 236 yards and nearly 5 yards per carry, but it was the unsuccessful fourth-down conversions that kept them off the scoreboard. The Tigers watched their halftime lead slowly evaporate and an interception on their first offensive play of the fourth quarter gave the Griffins a chance to tie or take the lead. However, the Benton defense was up to the challenge once more.
“Our guys stepped up tonight and I believe made a statement,” Moore said. “They played a really physical football team, a team that runs the ball extremely well, and our guys just responded. To get that many fourth down stops and to play that way was great.”
Hable finished 12-of-22 for 155 yards and a touchdown. However he threw two interceptions and fumbled the ball away on the Giffins’ first possession.
“Coach always preaches four quarters and that was good for situations like this,” Hable said.
So where does the win set up the Tigers in the district?
“Nowhere,” Moore said with a chuckle. “You know, 2-0 is a lot better than 0-2 or 1-1, but at the same time you got a great football team in Minden that rolls in here next week. There’s not an easy week. After every Friday night I remind them they haven’t won anything this week.”