No team has made such a dramatic transformation as the 2019 Benton football team going from 1-8 last year to 8-1, making second year coach Justin Groves a candidate for Coach of the Year.
"Flipping it 180 going from 1-8 to 8-1 is a team accomplishment," Groves said. "It is something the kids will never forget and be something they will always be able to hang their hats on. We turned it around quick and are excited about the future."
The Rangers were coming off a 41-0 loss at Murphysboro that left the Rangers in a tie for the conference title with the Red Devils for Benton's first title shared or otherwise since 2001.
Friday, the Rangers put an exclamation point on the season with a 40-0 shellacking of Anna-Jonesboro at The Pit, one of the hardest places to win in prep football, snapping a 12-game losing streak to A-J since 2005.
"We overcame some mistakes and penalties early and it was big plays that saved us," Groves said. "Keegan Glover had another big game for us with five touchdown passes. Our defense played real well holding them to under 100 yards and forcing three fumbles. Special teams played real well, too, with a blocked punt. It was a good turnaround from the week before. The rumor is that was the first time we've won down there since 1999."
Against the Wildcats quarterback Keegan Glover threw five touchdown passes with one interception completing 6-of-9 passes for 190 yards.
Tyler Butler and Peyton Swigonski led the Rangers on the ground with Butler rushing for 47 yards on 12 carries with one touchdown and Swigonski 42 yards on six carries.
Ayden Newcomb caught three passes for three touchdowns and a season-high 139 yards.
Defensively, the Rangers held the Wildcats to just 93 total yards and nine first downs, including just 21 yards passing on 1-of-4 passes and 1.6 yards a carry. The Rangers also recovered three fumbles setting up two touchdowns.
The game opened with Anna-Jonesboro taking the opening kickoff at their 31 and launching an eight-play drive that ended on the Benton 11 after Chase Thomas held Gavin Osman for one yard on a 4th-and-2.
Three plays later facing a 3rd-and-11 at the 10 Glover hit Newcomb on a screen pass for a 90-yard touchdown pass and the rout was on.
"That was a big play because we were looking at a punting situation deep in our own territory, instead we got six," Groves said. "That was a nice turn."
After forcing a three-and-out and a punt Benton drove 47 yards on five plays starting with a Butler 22-yard run. Glover hit Reid Baumgarte on a crossing route for a six-yard touchdown pass and the Rangers led 14-0 after the first quarter.
On A-J's next possession Newcomb forced and recovered a fumble at the Wildcat 13. Two plays later Butler scores from the six to up the lead to 21-0 with 10 minutes left in the half.
Two possessions later another three-and-out set up a punt on 4th-and-3 at the 30. Special teams came up big blocking the punt with Brendan Minor recovering at the 12. Glover converted quickly with a touchdown pass to Newcomb, but the extra point failed leaving the Rangers with a 27-0 lead with two minutes left in the first half and that's how the half ended.
In the third quarter the Rangers punted on their first possession, but after forcing another three-and-out Benton drove 53 yards on seven plays with Glover connecting with Newcomb for a 37-yard touchdown pass.
On a 4th-and-3 from the Wildcat 23 Thomas forced another fumble with Peyton Swigonski recovering at the 29. Glover struck quick with a 29-yard touchdown pass to Blake Stewart to up the lead to 40-0 with three minutes left in the third quarter to trigger the running clock.
Benton 40, Anna-Jonesboro 0
FIRST DOWNS: BEN: 12. AJ: 9.
RUSHING YARDS: BEN: 24-104. AJ: 46-72
PASSING YARDS: BEN: 202. AJ: 21.
PASSING (COMP-ATT): BEN: 8-12. AJ: 1-4.
PUNTING AVG: BEN: 2-46.0. AJ: 5-28.4.
PENALITIES-YARDS: BEN: 8-75. AJ: 3-15.
FUMBLES-LOST: BEN: 0-0. AJ: 3-3.
RUSHING-BEN: Tyler Butler 12-47-1TD, Peyton Swigonski 6-42, Keegan Glover 5-16 Brendan Minor 1-(-1). AJ: Barry Johnson 17-42, Noah Hobson 13-31, Drake Roach 7-29, Matthew Wright 1-(-2), Rayshaun Cannon 1-(-6), Arojae Hart 1-(-8). Gavin Osman 6-(-14).
PASSING- BEN: Glover 6-9-1-190-5TD. Ayden Newcomb 1-1-0-7, Peyton Bayless 1-2-0-5. AJ: Osman 1-4-0-21.
RECEIVING-BEN: Newcomb 3-139-3TD, Blake Stewart 1-29-1TD, Reid Baumgarte 2-22-1TD, Glover 1-7, Tre Hosick 1-5. AJ: Johnson 1-21.