Benton returned to the playoffs Saturday before the hometown fans at Tabor Field and it took until the last few seconds for Rangers to beat Salem 8-7 and advance to second round of the Class 4A football playoffs for the first time since 2012.
"Our place went crazy," said Benton coach Justin Groves. "There were fans still on the field an hour later."
This week the sixth seeded Rangers (9-1) will hit the road for a game against third seed Effingham (9-1), which beat Breese Central 55-13.
The stingy Ranger defense was at its usual best holding the Wildcats scoreless for the first three quarters until Salem finally broke scored on a 29-yard counter play at the start of the fourth quarter on an 11-play, 94-yard drive with 10 minutes remaining after stopping the Rangers at the six.
"We were putting a lot of pressure on them with our linemen doing well and our blitzes working," Groves said.
The high scoring Ranger offense that came into the game averaging 36.4 points a game, but was grounded by the Wildcats defense until the game-winning drive started with two minutes left at the Benton 44 following a punt after Salem picked up an unsportsman penalty on the fair-catch.
The drive got off to a great start when Keegan Glover found Ayden Newcomb for a 29-yard gain down to the Salem 27. Following a no-gain run by Glover the sophomore quarterback and Tre Hosick teamed up for five yards.
On 3rd-and-5 Glover was sacked for a 10-yard loss and adding injury to insult he suffered a back injury and had to leave the game with 1:50 remaining.
Peyton Bayless took over on 4th-and-15 and Coach Groves threw in some razzle-dazzle with Bayless lateraling to Reid Baumgarte who hit Newcomb for 18 yards and a first down.
Not being one to sit on the sidelines for any longer than he has to Glover re-entered the game with 1:21 left and the ball on the 14.
Following a holding penalty on an incomplete pass Benton had 1st-and-18 at the 22 with 1:14 remaining. Glover then runs the ball for 12 yards to set up 2nd-and-6 at the 10.
Following another incomplete pass the Rangers are still at the 10 with a 3rd-and-6 and 36 seconds left in regulation. On the next play Glover and Bayless hook up for the touchdown with 28.6 seconds remaining.
"Our line did an unbelievable job," Groves said. "They gave him all kinds of time and Glover stood there read the guy crossing the field and all of a sudden "PB" just pops out to the back left corner of the end zone for a touchdown."
Trailing by one point Coach Groves went for broke going for the win instead of the tie and overtime with the two-point conversion.
"The reason I went for two was at the beginning of the drive I saw the linemen were gassed, so I told my coaches to start thinking about a play," Groves said. "We ran a quick out play to the right with Glover throwing to Baumgarte. He had to lay out to grab it and got in by six inches."
On the kickoff the Benton kicker Chance Devore slipped and kicked it out of bounds. Instead of taking the ball at the 35 Salem elected to have Benton kick again and it worked in the Rangers favor with Chase Thomas and Hosick tackling the returner at the 17 after he had to recover the ball at the five after bobbling it near the 15.
With 20.6 seconds remaining Newcomb broke up a pass on first down. On second down the Wildcats completed a pass with Newcomb making a game-saving tackle at the 33. The final play was an incomplete pass at Newcomb.
Benton 8, Salem 7
FIRST DOWNS: BEN: 12. SAL: 12.
RUSHING YARDS: BEN: 40-108. SAL: 25-113.
PASSING YARDS: BEN: 113. SAL: 101.
PASSING (COMP-ATT): BEN: 9-13. SAL: 7-15.
PUNTING AVE: BEN: 4-51.8. SAL: 5-33.2.
PENALITIES-YARDS: BEN: 6-35. SAL: 4-35.
FUMBLES-LOST: BEN: 0-0. SAL: 0-0.
RUSHING-BEN: Tyler Butler 23-99, Peyton Swigonski 4-5, Keegan Glover 11-5 Brendan Minor 1-(-1). SAL: Keyton Mitchell 14-106-1TD, Trevor Greene 6-18, Cole Graham 2-10, Caden Bee 1-(-1), Ryan Quinn 2-(-20).
PASSING- BEN: Glover 8-12-0-95-1TD. Reid Baumgarte 1-1-0-18. SAL: Quinn 7-15-1-101-0TD
RECEIVING-BEN: Newcomb 3-86, Peyton Bayless 1-10-1TD, Tyler Buter 3-9, Tre Hosick 1-5, Blake Stewart 1-3. SAL: Laten Wayer 3-60, Bee 3-40, Greene 1-1.