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West Memphis receiver's huge night not enough to beat Benton

Jarrell Shephard had 16 receptions for 317 yards and 4 touchdowns in a 55-38 loss

By Jeff Halpern | Photos by Tommy Land  

BENTON — Try as he might, the play of West Memphis wide receiver Jarrell Shephard was not enough to knock off the No. 18 Benton Panthers.

Sheppard, the 5-11, 185-pound senior wide receiver, had 16 receptions for 317 yards and 4 touchdowns in a 55-38 loss to Benton at Everett Field.

“We told him all week that this is a game where he can do a lot of damage,” said West Memphis head coach Robert Hooks. “I’m not surprised because we know to a man, he is capable of having games like that.

“The main thing is we try to put the ball in his hands as much as possible.”

Benton head coach Brad Harris, who admitted his team’s secondary has had problems during the season, was not surprised by what he saw from the West Memphis receiver.

“He’s a super player,” Harris said. “One of our weaknesses has been in the back end, and we’ve struggled with opposing team’s passing games.

Benton is now 7-2 overall and 7-1 in the 6A-East Conference and is in control of its fate for the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. West Memphis falls to 6-3 and 5-3.

“This is big for us because we’re in good shape to get a bye and get a home game,” said Harris. “Last year, it didn’t work for us because we won the conference and lost to Marion. We need to wrap things

With West Memphis down 17-0 in the first quarter, Shephard caught an 8-yard pass from Keland Mills, who completed 25-of-42 passes for 473 yards and 4 touchdowns, in the right side of the end zone. A bad snap of the extra point kept the score at 17-6 with 12.5 seconds left in the first quarter.

“Their quarterback is a great player and he made a lot of great throws,” said Harris.

Dylan Greer caught 5 passes for 69 yards and Jaylon Merritt caught 4 for 93.

Mills, who also rushed for 53 yards on 14 carries, scored on touchdowns of 6 and 3 yards in the second quarter to put the Blue Devils up 18-17 at halftime. Edgar Gudino missed the extra point on the second touchdown and Mills threw incomplete when the Blue Devils went for the two-point conversion after the third touchdown with 36.6 seconds left in the first half.

Getting the ball to start the second half, the Blue Devils needed 11 plays to go 80 yards and the drive ended with Mills throwing 8 yards to Shephard at the 7:32 mark. Mills’ pass for two points was incomplete and the Blue Devils had a 31-24 lead.

Special teams miscues hurt the Blue Devils, which Hooks said earlier in the week that they had “break even” to have a chance to win. In addition to the botched extra point, missed extra point, two missed conversions, the Blue Devils failed to recover short, high directional kickoff by Benton’s Lucas Wilbur at the 10:11 mark which gave the Panthers a first down at the West Memphis 9 that resulted in a Glover field goal which put the Panthers up 10-0. In addition, a quick kick by Mills in the first quarter went 6 yards giving the Panthers the ball at the West Memphis 39 and resulted in a Braylen Russell scoring from two yards out at the 6:34 mark to put the Panthers up 17-0.

“Special teams is what killed us and I have to take responsibility for that,” said Hooks.

Special teams helped Benton tie the game at 24. Elias Payne returned the kickoff 40 yards to the West Memphis 40. Two plays later, Russell, who rushed for 147 yards on 24 carries and scored 3 times, scored from 38 yards out at the 6:53 mark after Wilbur’s kick was good.

“He looked like a Division I player with the way he was running away from people on that touchdown,” said Harris. “He got better as the game went on.”

Shephard had three catches on West Memphis’ next drive. He caught a 12-yard pass, a 35- yard pass in which he got behind the Benton defense to give the Blue Devils a first down t the Benton 16 and a 17-yard touchdown pass in the left corner of the end zone at the 3:56 mark. Gudino made the extra point and the Blue Devils led 31-24.

Benton tied them game at the 1:05 mark of the third quarter when Maddox Davis scored on an end around and Wilbur added the extra point.

After Mills threw incomplete to Dylan Greer on fourth and nine at the Benton 38 with 10:51 left in the game, Russell scored from 40 yards out with 9:26 left and Wilbur added the extra point to put Benton up 38-31.

One play later, Patrick Shipp intercepted Mills and ran the ball back to the West Memphis 5-yard line. A dead-ball celebration penalty backed the Panthers up to the 20 and a false start pushed them back to the 25. Three plays later, Cline Hooten, who completed 13-of-18 passes for 200 yards, found Payne in the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown pass on third and 14. Wilbur’s kick was good and the Panthers were up 45-31.

Davis caught five passes for 79 yards and Elias Payne caught 4 for 78 2 touchdowns for the Panthers.

“They gave Cline a lot of looks early on and then we simplified things,” said Harris. “He was able to make some big plays in the second half.”

After Mills threw incomplete on fourth and 10 from its 20, Wilbur added a 31-yard field goal three plays later at the 6:01 mark to make it 48-31.

Shephard had one more big play in him when he got behind the Panther defense for a 63-yard touchdown pass at the 4:29 mark. Gudino's kick was good, making it 48-38.

Chris Barnard finished the scoring with a 51-yard touchdown run at the 3:08 mark to set the final margin.

“We didn’t change a whole lot,” said Harris after his team overcame a 24-0 run by West Memphis. “We came out with some energy in the second half. We seemed to be content and turned things around.”

Hooks, who was proud of the way his team fought back from a 17-0 deficit, chalked this one to another learning experience for a team with eight seniors.

“Hats off to Benton,” he said. “We were down 17-0 and battled back, but we need to learn how to finish games.”

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