It will be a big night at Tabor Field for the Benton football team Saturday when the Pinckneyville Panthers come to town to help the Rangers celebrate the military, police, firefighters and first responders as well as the 20th Anniversary of September 11th on Military Appreciation Night with the game starting at 7 p.m.
"It's going to be a very patriotic night," said Benton coach Justin Groves. "It will be an emotional ceremony for the national anthem by the high school band with a big field flag presented. We'll have the honor guard to present the colors and our local VFW will present 13 flags for those 13 soldiers we lost in Afghanistan. We've got 13 uniformed soldiers for them. We'll also have a couple of other surprises and things. Overall it will be a nice ceremony to pay honor where honor is due. We are encouraging everyone who is current or former military and all police, fire and first responders to join us on the field for the national anthem."
The game was originally scheduled to be played on Friday, Sept. 10, but it was moved to Sept. 11 in order to give the Panthers an additional day to prepare after not being able to practice or play the first two weeks of the season because of the COVID-19 protocols.
"We don't know much about Pinckneyville with them having a new coach and not playing in the spring, so we don't have film to watch," Groves said. "We just have to be ready for anything, but our kids are real good at that. I know our kids will come out excited and fired up."
The Ranges come into the game with a 2-0 record after beating Carterville 23-6 in their home opener in week one and taking the measure of Sparta on the road last week 61-0. The Panthers are 0-2 after forfeiting their first two games.
"Our first practice plan for the Sparta week was to add nothing, fix everything and play everyone and we did all those things perfect with every single kid on our team playing including at one point two girls, a freshman and the rest were sophomores," Groves said. "The second half was all second group and third group of kids and they didn't get scored on."
While the offense was dynamic the defense was even more dynamic holding the Bulldogs to negative 23 total yards finishing with nine sacks and another 24 tackles for loss. The Rangers held the Bulldogs leading rusher from game one Dauntay Merideth to a negative 22 yards on four carries and the team to negative 37 rushing total.
"Our defense was just stifling," Groves said. "I know our starters held them to probably closer to negative 100 yards. Every single play was a negative play for quite a while. I don't think we got the ball offensively on our side of the 50 the entire first half. We looked pretty sharp."
Leading the sack attack were defensive end Patrick Stanley and outside linebacker Kaleb Vaughn with two sacks each. Defensive end Bradley Longfellow, cornerback Landon Bolen, defensive end Jacob Kinsman, outside linebacker Wyatt Upton and nose guard Hunter Moss had one each.
Vaughn led with four tackles for loss followed by Stanley with three, safety Chase Thomas, outside linebacker Aiden Peach, defensive end Brantley Reed, middle linebacker Jaden Ford and Bolen with two each and safety Reid Baumgarte, outside linebacker Lucas Wilson, nose guard Lucas Holman, defensive end Casey Pauley, Kinsman, Upton and Moss with one each.
Senior quarterback Keegan Glover had a perfect game completing 10-of-10 passes for 129 yards and five touchdowns. Senior wide receiver/running back Landon Bolen and junior wide receiver/kick returner Isaiah Ward were also perfect with Bolen finishing with two catches for two touchdowns and Ward catching one pass for a touchdown and returning one punt for a touchdown.
"Keegan played an absolutely perfect game at quarterback," Groves said. "We ran him one time for a touchdown and he threw 10 times for 10 completions. A lot of little things came together on offense. Our offensive line blocked real well. Line coach Josh Kinsman graded them out and most were in the upper 90s. Everybody stepped up and overall everybody played great."
The offensive explosion started on the Rangers first drive after the defense forced a punt on a 4th-and-11 from the Sparta 28. The Rangers took over on the Sparta 49 and three plays later on Glover's first touchdown pass was a jet toss to Ward from the 18. Eli Hanson kicked the extra point and four minutes into the game Benton led 7-0.
After a two-yard punt on 4th-and-19 from the Sparta 25 the Rangers were pushed back to the 45 on a block in the back penalty on a five-yard pass play, but that was just a minor blip because five plays later Glover threw his second touchdown pass to Bolen for 17 yards coming out of the backfield. Freshman Jesser Zepeda-Eber kicked the point and it was 14-0 with four minutes left in the first quarter.
The defense stopped the Bulldogs again on a 4th-and-3 at the Sparta 23. Two plays later following another one-yard punt Glover scored from the one. Zepeda-Eber kicked the point to up the lead to 21-0 with two minutes left in the first quarter.
Following a 12-yard punt on a 4th-and-22 that set up the Rangers at the Sparta 25 Glover connected with wide receiver Chase Thomas for 22 yards before finding Bolen out of the backfield again for the final three yards for the touchdown at the buzzer. Zepeda-Eber kicked the point again and Benton led 28-0 after the first quarter.
The second quarter was more of the same on the defensive side stopping Sparta on five fourth downs resulting in four punts. Benton got the ball back on downs twice by tackling the punter for a loss of 15 yards on the second punt and again as time ran out at the half when the Bulldogs went for the first down.
Glover completed his afternoon with two touchdown passes to Baumgarte covering 10 and nine yards to open the quarter, but it was special teams that were special in the second quarter.
"We were also able to do a lot of good things on special teams with one of our goals to return a punt for a touchdown," Groves said.
Baumgarte's first touchdown catch was set up by Baumgarte returning a punt 37 yards to the Sparta 10. Baumgarte returned the third punt 25 yards to Sparta five to set up a 16-yard touchdown run by Upton.
The fourth punt from the Sparta 42 was returned by Ward for 71 yards and a touchdown to give the Rangers a 55-0 lead at the half.
With the mercy rule triggered for the second half the defense had just one series in the third quarter forcing a punt on 4th-and-17 from the Sparta 28. Upton scored his second touchdown on a five-yard run as the buzzer sounded for the final margin.
In the fourth quarter on Sparta's first offensive series Peach forced and recovered a fumble on Benton's 40. With Sparta driving the game ended on the Benton 35 with an incomplete pass defended by Hanson to preserve the shutout.
Benton 61, Sparta 0
Benton 28 27 06 00 -- 61
Sparta 00 00 00 00 -- 0
First Downs: BEN: 18. SP: 4. Total Yards: BEN: 304. SP: (-23). Rushing Att-Yds: BEN: 20-159. SP: 32-(-37). Passing Comp-Att-Yds: BEN: 11-12-145. SP: 4-12-14. Penalties: BEN: 6-50. SP: 5-30. Fumbles-Lost: BEN: 0-0. SP: 2-1.
RUSHING: BEN-Wyatt Upton 7-83-2TD, Jacob Kinsman 5-33, Lukas Wilson 1-17, Reid Baumgarte 2-15, Brantley Reed 1-10, Rylan Perkins 1-3, Keegan Glover 1-1, Josh Owens 1-1, Jaden Courter 1-(-4). SP-Riley Bierman 3-28, Quintin Littlepage 5-7, Arkez Richardson 5-6, Ethan Willis 1-(-3), Keyan Hagene 6-(-6), Alex Robertson 1-(-15), Dauntay Merideth 4-(-22), Jarrelle Nesbitt 7-(-32).
PASSING: BEN-Keegan Glover 10-10-0int-129-5TD, Reid Baumgarte 1-1-0int-16-0TD, Evan Munoz 0-0-0int-0-0TD. SP-Jarrelle Nesbitt 4-12-0int-14-0TD.
RECEIVING: BEN-Reid Baumgarte 3-41-2TD, Chase Thomas 1-22, Zach Howell 1-20, Isaiah Ward 1-18-1TD, Kaleb Vaughn 1-16, Aiden Peach 1-12, Landon Bolen 2-10-2TD, Jacob Kinsman 2-6. SP-Torre Lofton 1-7, Landon Walter 2-5, Dauntay Merideth 1-2.