It’s time to Pack the Palace for your home­town Pan­thers

The Saline Courier - - SPORTS - By Jim Gard­ner

“I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days be­fore you’ve ac­tu­ally left them.” (Andy Bernard).

If you are a fan of Benton Pan­ther foot­ball, then th­ese are the good old days. For the fifth time in six sea­sons, the Pan­thers prac­ticed on this Thanks­giv­ing morn­ing, en­joyed a won­der­ful break­fast buf­fet and fel­low­ship with their team­mates, fam­ily and coaches, and put the fi­nal touches on their preparatio­n for to­mor­row’s Class 6A state semi­fi­nal game against West Mem­phis.

The first time in my mem­ory that the Pan­thers played on Black Fri­day was in 1989. Dwight Fite’s Pan­thers won the 4A South Con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship with a thrilling 21-14 win in dou­ble over­time at El Do­rado giv­ing Benton home­field ad­van­tage in the state play­offs. Af­ter knock­ing off Lit­tle Rock Cen­tral and Lit­tle Rock Mills, the Pan­ther hosted Spring­dale on Black Fri­day. C.W. Lewis Sta­dium was packed, a stand­ing-room only crowd cheer­ing on the Pan­thers.

Over the last six sea­sons, prac­tic­ing on Thanks­giv­ing Day and play­ing on Black Fri­day has be­come a habit.

For the first time since 2014, the state semi­fi­nal game will hap­pen right here at home, in Benton, against the West Mem­phis Blue Devils. Last year on Black Fri­day, the Pan­thers made the trek east on I-40 and came away with a 30-17 win over a then un­de­feated West Mem­phis team.

This year, the Blue Devils are mak­ing the long drive to Benton.

And what should the Blue Devils see when they step on the field?

How about a packed house cheer­ing loudly and proudly for the home­town Pan­thers!

Twenty-five Benton Pan­ther se­niors will take the field at the Benton Ath­letic Com­plex, aka The Palace on the Park­way, for the fi­nal time to­mor­row night.

And what should those se­niors and their Pan­ther team­mates see when they charge through the smoke­filled in­flat­able Pan­ther tun­nel onto the turf?

A packed Palace on the Park­way!

This Pan­ther team has an op­por­tu­nity to write it­self into the history books with a win over West Mem­phis. Cur­rently, the Pan­thers have won 69 games this decade A win would sur­pass the 1960-1969 decade for most wins ever by Benton. A win would send the Pan­thers to back-to-back state cham­pi­onship games for the first time in school history. And a state cham­pi­onship win would give the Pan­thers 10 wins, mark­ing the first backto-back 10-win sea­sons in school history.

Since open­ing in 2013, the Pan­thers have hosted seven home play­off games in the Palace and have never lost. Never. 7-0. Un­beaten.

Com­bine history and the home-field ad­van­tage and the edge goes to the Pan­thers.

Since 2013, I have been blessed to be a part of the Benton broad­cast team. Whether on KEWI, 106.7 The Ride, Fidelity Lo­cal 6, or the current Benton Foot­ball Net­work live stream on Youtube, the growth of our broad­cast au­di­ence has been amaz­ing. In fact, last week, the live stream broad­cast re­ceived over 4,500 unique views to see the Pan­thers de­feat Jones­boro 18-7.

On be­half of the broad­cast crew, the Pan­ther play­ers and coaches, our hope is that to­mor­row night’s broad­cast is our small­est au­di­ence of the season be­cause all Pan­ther fans will Pack the Palace.

What the 2019 Benton Pan­thers need, bet­ter yet, what they de­serve is your pres­ence at the sta­dium to­mor­row night. The Pan­thers need your en­ergy, your sup­port, your pas­sion. They’ve given us theirs, bat­tling back from a gru­el­ing 0-3 start to the season to win eight con­sec­u­tive games. Their hard work, re­silience and per­sis­tence have brought in­cred­i­ble joy dur­ing this con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship season.

But they want more.

They want a state cham­pi­onship and to­mor­row night at home against West Mem­phis is the next step on that quest.

And they want you to come early, be loud, and Pack the Palace.

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