Benton knew that it would almost take every play in their playbook to travel five hours and take down the defending Class 4A champions on their home field.
The Tigers (10-2) used that approach, along with a flawless second-half performance from freshman quarterback Garrett Hable, to take down the reigning champs 31-19 at Joe Yenni Stadium on Friday night in the Class 4A regionals.
“I was dreading that ride home if we didn’t take care of business,” said Benton coach Reynolds Moore. “I thought we had a chance to put them away and we’ve had trouble putting teams away all year. But it just shows the heart our guys have to come out here and get the win.”
Hable completed 15 of his 25 passes — including all eight of his second-half attempts — for 128 yards and two touchdowns and also added 15 carries for 39 yards.
“I can’t say enough about him,” Moore said of his freshman quarterback. “I’ve used the word ‘moxy’ to describe him. He’s got a lot of it. He did a very good job protecting the ball and I’m just proud of the way he performed.”
Facing a fourth down in their own territory late in the third quarter, Moore showed his willingness to “throw the kitchen sink” at East Jefferson (7-5) when they ran a fake punt and punter Jordan White made the gamble pay off when he scampered 23 yards to keep the Tiger drive alive.
Six plays later, Hable connected with Tyler Stephens on a 17-yard slant for a touchdown to give Benton a commanding 24-13 lead with 45 seconds left in the third.
“I was telling our team the whole week that East Jefferson are the champs until somebody beats them,” Moore said. “We knocked them off, so now we’ve got a chance. But when you get down to these final eight teams, everyone is going to be good.”
After a poor punt by East Jefferson gave Benton the ball at the Warriors’ 19-yard line, it seemed the Tigers were a few plays away from wrapping up the victory. But the Tigers running back Chauncey Taylor fumbled a handoff and East Jefferson defensive back Leonard Labranch returned it 93 yards to give his offense the ball inside the Benton five yard-line. Two plays later, running back Tracey Bright cut the Benton lead down to 24-19 on a 2-yard touchdown run.
But Benton put together another impressive 12-play, 60-yard drive to milk the clock down and eventually scored on a 1-yard plunge by Brayden Hutchinson with a minute left to put the game out of reach.
“This win feels pretty great,” Hable said. “I just had to make my reads and our running backs made some great plays for us.”
After an East Jefferson fumbled handoff was recovered by Benton linebacker Jaret Gil, the Tigers took advatage of the Warriors’ miscue, marching 50 yards in eight plays and running back Chauncey Taylor capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown run—his second of the game. After failing on the two-point conversion attempt, Benton snatched an 18-13 lead to begin the second half.
Taylor finished with seven carries for 42 yards and two touchdowns.
“Chauncey started out as a running back, but he gained a little weight so we moved him to D-line,” Moore said of Taylor. “But we decided during the year to use him more in the running packages because it fires him up and fires the rest of the team up.
“I thought he was great today.”
After forcing an East Jefferson three-and-out late in the second quarter, the Tigers marched 72 yards in nine plays, capped off by a bruising 3-yard run by running back Chauncey Taylor.
The Warriors answered with a clock-eating 10-play, 69-yard drive of their own that ended with Trevor Diggs scoring on a fourth-and-goal from 1-yard out with a quarterback sneak to give East Jefferson a 13-12 lead heading into halftime.
Late in the first quarter, the Warriors appeared to find their rhythm offensively after getting off to a slow start. They utilized ten consecutive running plays to cover 80 yards and Morris Sarah finished off the drive with a five-yard touchdown run, giving East Jefferson a 7-6 lead.
Other than those two drives, the Warriors struggled to gain any momentum on the offensive end. They finished the game with 188 yards of total offense, one of their lower outputs of the season.
“Our defense was lights out tonight and they have been for us all year,” Moore said. “We know if we can score these kind of points that our defense will always put us in a position to win.”
After forcing Benton into a three-and-out on their opening possession, East Jefferson muffed a punt and gave the ball right back to the Tigers. Benton took advantage of the East Jefferson miscue five plays later when Hable connected with running back T.J. Anderson on a 15-yard screen that the senior running back ran in for a touchdown. After missing the extra point, the Tigers jumped out to an early 6-0 lead.
Benton will be squaring off with No. 5 seed Warren Easton next Friday.