Blue Devils drop 6A semifinal game to Benton
West Memphis’s playoff run ended with loss to Panthers
WM School District BENTON — The ride is over for the West Memphis Blue Devils, but after a 2-4 start the ending was palatable.
After rushing out to leads of 14-0 and 21-7, the Blue Devils fell victim to the hot passing arm of Benton junior quarterback Garrett Brown, who led his team to a 63-35 victory Friday night in the semifinals of the Class 6A state playoffs. The 6A state championship game will feature Searcy, a 50-38 winner over Greenwood in the other semifinal, against Benton. And the looks of it might be the first team to 60 wins.
Like West Memphis (7-5), the Panthers started the season in a huge hole. Benton lost its first three games of the season, but have been unbeatable since.
The Blue Devil coaches, however, can take satisfaction in salvaging a season based on their ingenuity on offense.
“There’s going to be a time where we look back and feel good about what we did, coming from 2-4,” said West Memphis head coach Billy Elmore. “But that time’s not now.”
Behind the mix-andmatch offense that featured two different mindsets, the Blue Devils ambushed Benton (9-3) from the opening kickoff.
But the game seemed to subvert when the key to the West Memphis offensive plan went down with an injury. With the Blue Devils clinging to a 21-14 lead and the Benton offense crossing midfield, West Memphis senior two-way star Kendarious Moore went down with an injury on a questionable block at the 3:47 mark of the second quarter. Moore and teammate Cedric Loving lined up in the Wildcat formation and kept opposing defenses on their heels for the better part of five weeks. Blue Devil coaches alternated series between the double direct snap look and the conventional look behind quarterback Owens McConnell.
Moore’s ankle injury kept him out of the rest of the game.
That’s when Brown, the Panther quarterback, found his rhythm.
After starting the game 1 for his first 6 passing with zero yards and a pick six, Brown finished the contest completing 27 of 36 passes for 486 yards and 6 touchdowns.
“I really felt like we had a chance, especially with the way we started off,” Elmore added. “They finally had our numbers on our zero coverage and stuff that we’ve been living and dying with the last five weeks. They exposed some things there.”
West Memphis took the opening kick and went 80 yards in just six plays, culminated by Loving’s 15yard touchdown.
Brown’s auspicious start was punctuated by Blue Devil sophomore Tamerius Bell picking him off and returning it 25 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead for the visitors at the 2:21 mark of the first quarter.
The momentum stayed with West Memphis when senior quarterback McConnell, who completed 18 of 36 passes for 297 yards, connected with Drayton Brown for a 33-yard touchdown pass. But the final 6:59 of the first half belonged to Benton and its hot-handed quarterback.
The Panthers took a 28-21 lead into halftime, but they received the second-half kickoff. An onside kick by the Blue Devils was easily recovered by Benton and from there the hosts took over.
Sophomore running back Casey Johnson scored two straight TDs on the ground and the remainder of the game rested on the right shoulder of Brown.
“We were feeling pretty good when it was 21-7, but you knew 21 points weren’t going to hold up,” said Elmore. “We just didn’t continue to score with them.”