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Benton brings veteran team back to continue streak of winning records

  • The 2021 Benton varsity football team

    The 2021 Benton varsity football team
    CHRIS KAYS | For The News

 
By Geary Deniston
Contributing Writer
updated: 3/23/2021 9:13 AM

The Benton Rangers football team is coming off its best season in eight years and brings back 11 returning starters to make a run for its first back-to-back winning records since three in a row from 2010 to 2012.
The Rangers opened the season Saturday with a statement by beating rival West Frankfort, 53-0, on its brand spanking new turf at renovated Tabor Field. This week Benton hits the road to play Harrisburg Saturday at 1 p.m.
Justin Groves begins his third season as head coach having improved from 1-8 his first year to 9-2 last year and a return to the 4A playoffs after a six season absence. The Rangers beat Salem, 8-7, in the first round and lost to Effingham, 42-7, in the second.
The Rangers tied for the SIRR-Ohio Division conference title with Murphysboro for their first title shared or otherwise since 2001.
"We've added a few coaches at the lower levels to try to improve them because winning football games isn't what it used to be," Groves said. "It's a lot more challenging and I think I'm onto something. I've got the right crew right now, so we'll see."
 While Groves has a solid group of returning starters back he does have to replace his workhorse running back Tyler Butler, who had 1,001 total yards that included 883 yards rushing.
Other key players Groves has to replace are kicker Chance Devore, offensive lineman/middle linebacker Garrett Cardwell, middle linebacker Blake Kneezle and nose tackle Brent Prince.
Leading the returning starters on offensive is junior quarterback Keegan Glover. Last year as a sophomore Glover earned the starting job and completed 64.4 percent of his passes (85-of-132) for 1,227 yards and a team record 24 touchdowns with only six interceptions.
"Glover has had a tremendous off-season," Groves said. "Coach Derek Stowers has coached Hamilton Page, Spike Buntin and Tyler Leffler and he says Keegan is the most accurate passer of all of them. One of the big things this year is he has jumped up at least 20 pounds and two inches in height. He was 5-10 and 140 last year. He's really gotten strong and he's developed a deep ball."
Returning in the backfield are seniors Peyton Swigonski and Brendan Minor with junior Landon Bolen joining the seniors. 
"We're were pretty much a run first team last year using the run to set up the pass and this year we will be much the same, but maybe throw it a little bit more," Groves said. "It may take all three to fill Butler's shoes, but I think we'll do it. Minor is more downhill and a good blocker. He will compliment Swig real well. Landon just moved back to Benton from Herrin. He's brand new to football, but he has a lot of potential."
His leading receiver is also back in senior Ayden Newcomb. The duo teamed up for 31 catches, 652 yards and 10 touchdowns earning his All-South honors. Other returning receivers are senior Peyton Bayless and juniors Reid Baumgarte and Chase Thomas. Newcomers to the receiving team are senior Wyatt McClintock and junior Jaden Ford.
"Wyatt hasn't played football since his freshman year, but he's come along in a hurry," Groves said. "It's like he never missed a day. He's going to be really good for us."
Glover also has three of his starting offensive linemen back in All-Conference right tackle senior Logan Williams, All-Conference center senior Hunter Roberts and left tackle junior Patrick Stanley. Moving into the starting lineup is senior Kael Pearce at right guard and junior Josh White at left guard.
"Logan has been a three-year starter for us," Groves said. "These guys are big. They look like a bunch of grown men compared to last year."
On defense Baumgarte and Thomas earned All-Conference honors at safety as did Newcomb at cornerback.
"Reid was a first-team unanimous choice at safety, who had several picks for us and some big plays in big games," Groves said. "Chase is kind of linebacker and that's his mentality, but we dropped him back at safety. He'll help us on the run quite a bit."
Swigonski returns for a third year at outside linebacker. Minor moves into the middle and McClintock will take over for him at outside linebacker.
"Swig plays both ways and is a darn good linebacker," Groves said. "Minor is the strongest kid we got, pound per pound. He's a workhorse in the weight room."
The three-man line will be manned by three seniors Williams, Gabe Craig and Nicholas Land along with junior Aiden Peach.
"Defensively we're going to put it in the hands of our best athletes, so we can play loose and fast," Groves said. "Our base is going to be a 3-2 with a couple overhang backers. We'll try to bring pressure from different places. We have three All-Conference players back in the secondary and that's good for us. We lost our two middle linebackers, so we're going to have to play some younger kids and develop a little depth. There's good competition there. Our defensive linemen are going to move around. Our line is deep and will definitely be one our strengths."