BENTON – Despite Benton’s best efforts, Northwood speedster Marquez Stevenson turned Friday’s District 1-4A matchup into a full-fledged track meet.
Despite Stevenson’s 319 all-purpose yards, including touchdowns on the ground, through the air and in the return game, the district-leading Tigers wrapped up an undefeated regular season at home with a 55-38 offensive onslaught.
“We apparently don’t like to do things the easy way,” Benton coach Reynolds Moore joked after the game. “If we would’ve played early on like we did late, especially defensively with the kickoffs, I think it would’ve been a little bit different.”
Moore said the game plan was to keep the ball out of Stevenson’s hands as much as possible. The Tigers struggled to do that from the get-go, allowing the University of Houston commit to return a kickoff 76 yards for a touchdown and then glide past the entire defense on a bubble screen for a 70-yard score.
The Falcons (3-6, 1-5) team speed gave the Tigers fits for much of the evening, scoring three times on their first five offensive plays. Stevenson, along with running back Orlando Chapman, were running in circles and right by the Benton defense in the first quarter.
“He’s a really great player and he’s going to make plays,” said Tigers wide out Clayton Festevan.
But the Tigers (8-1, 6-0) have a few offensive weapons of their own that were on full display, matching everyting the Falcons threw at them. If it wasn’t running back Jermaine Newton between the tackles, it was Festevan in the flat. The Tigers were relentless, scoring almost at will down the stretch, racking up 514 yards of total offense and eight touchdowns.
“You just pick your poison with us,” Festevan said. “You can’t stop us. We feel like we can play with anybody in the state. We don’t worry about what anyone else says. On Friday nights we show what we do.”
When the Tigers needed to take air out of the football and use up clock, they turned to Newton. The sophomore back carried the ball 32 times for 178 yards and also caught three passes for 65 yards. His two fourth-quarter touchdowns slammed the door on a feisty Falcons team.
“He’s gotten better every single week,” Moore said. “There’s a lot of good sophomore’s in this district and we saw a lot of them last year and he’s now one of them. He certainly earned his way tonight.”
The Tigers’ other super sophomore, quarterback Garrett Hable, had an equally impressive performance. He completed 18-of-36 passes for 220 yards and two touchdown tosses to Festevan. But his real impact was felt in the rushing game, executing the read-option play to perfection on multiple occasions. He ran for three scores on 87 yards, including a crucial 59-yarder to quickly answer a Stevenson score to start the second half.
“At the beginning of the season he was good, but he’s gotten way better,” Newton said of his quarterback. “He’s focused more and has made better reads. If it’s not there he’ll pull it and make a big play, like he did tonight.”
The Tigers went 10-3 last season, but suffered all three losses on their home field. They made it a point in the offseason to do a better job protecting their home field. The win Friday capped a perfect 6-0 regular season and all but assured another home date in the first round of the playoffs.
“If our team just keeps rolling like we are I think we’ll be fine,” Festevan said with a smile.