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El Dorado, Benton to meet in showdown

by Tony Burns | September 23, 2022 at 12:00 a.m.

El Dorado got its offense unlocked last week in a 44-6 win over Greene County Tech. The Wildcats will try to keep the ball rolling on Friday when they renew acquaintances at long-time rival Benton.

Both teams are 1-2 overall and 1-1 in the 6A East. The Panthers are coming off a 38-14 loss to Little Rock Catholic. Benton beat Sylvan Hills 38-24 after falling to Bryant 38-17 in the season opener.

“They’re well coached. They have some explosive playmakers on both sides of the ball,” said El Dorado coach Steven Jones. “They’re very good at what they do. They are 1-2 but they’ve played some really good teams. We expect a dogfight.”

Benton will be led by junior running back Braylen Russell, who has committed to the University of Arkansas.

“Everything they do on offense goes around him. They try to run the ball and then get it to him in space on quick screens and quick passes,” Jones said. “They don’t throw the ball vertically a ton but they do a good job of making plays out on the edge with those screens and quick gain stuff.”

Senior quarterback Jack Woolbright threw for 177 yards on 13-of-32 passing against Catholic but two weeks ago against Sylvan Hills, he was 11-of-12 for 207 yards and four touchdowns.

“They’ve rotated a couple guys at quarterback. I think the focal point of the offense is definitely the tailback. We’ll have to have a great plan to stop the tailback,” said Jones, who said the Panthers‘ offensive line has “really good size.”

Defensively, Benton has used a blitzing 3-3-5 alignment.

“Defensive line, they have average size but they’re very athletic. That can give you problems when you go against a defensive line that can move,” said Jones. “They like to move their defensive line in different ways and try to create some confusion up front. They do blitz more than we typically see teams blitz. They’re usually going to send six on every snap from somewhere. We’ll have to be ready for that.”

El Dorado’s defense is coming off a shutout against Greene County Tech, allowing just 42 total yards. The Eagles scored on a blocked punt in the end zone.

Offensively, the Wildcats showed a new wrinkle with running back Shadarious Plummer starting at quarterback, running read option. Senior Kolin Parker also had his best game ever, passing for 216 yards and three touchdowns on 13-of-19 attempts.

“We feel like we’ve shown we can do some things in the air and on the ground. We have a plan for both,” said Jones. 

Special teams has been a mixed back for the Wildcats this season. El Dorado (TJ Dunn) returned a kickoff for a touchdown last week but also gave up the blocked punt for the score.

“That’s something we’ve emphasized in practice and continue to improve at. Moving forward, we’re going to continue to improve in special teams,” said Jones. “Benton’s kickoff guy can put it in the end zone. They like to onsides kick. They do a lot with him. We’ll have to be ready for that.”

Jones said left guard Ethan Faith will be back in the lineup after missing last week. Defensively, freshman Jakori Lumsey played his first varsity game last week at linebacker.

“He played a lot last week. He was in on a lot of tackles and made a lot of plays,” said Jones. “We’re happy with his progress. We’ll see where it goes from here.”

Overall key for El Dorado could be getting a handle on Russell defensively and cashing in on opportunities on offense.

“Anytime you play Benton you’ve got to take away explosive plays. You can’t allow those guys to have explosive plays,” said Jones. “We have to keep everything in front defensively. “Offensively, same key for us is finishing drives. I thought we did a better job last week. That’s still a focal point.”

El Dorado and Benton first played in 1926 and competed every season from 1981 until 2019. The Panthers have won the last four meetings, including the 41-31 decision in 2019. Benton knocked the Wildcats out of the first round of the playoffs in 2015 and in the semifinals in 2014. El Dorado eliminated the Panthers in the quarterfinals in 2013.

Jones said this will be his first time coaching a game at Benton.

“Over the years Benton and El Dorado have had some really good games. We expect Friday night to carry through and be the same thing.”

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