LITTLE ROCK — Countless backyard throws between the Emert brothers paid off in the form of Shiloh Christian's first victory ever over a Class AAAAA team Monday morning at War Memorial Stadium.
Luke Emert flattened out his route on quarterback Nathan Emert's fourth-down rollout, waited for the signal and then sprinted behind the Benton secondary.
You know the signal. It's that little wave a quarterback gives when he wants his receiver to go deep.
Nathan Emert led his brother with a soft 30-yard toss and Luke Emert finished off the 51-yard play for a touchdown and a 34-30 comefrom-behind victory by the Saints. "I'm more relieved than anything," said Shiloh Christian coach Chris Wood after waiting almost 10 months between games following a 3-7 campaign in 2002. "Anytime everybody picks a Class AAA school to beat a AAAAA school, that puts a lot of pressure on you. It's a sign of relief to get a win, but our kids deserved it today."
Shiloh Christian trailed 30-21 after Benton quarterback Justin Ray kept on the option and sprinted 40 yards for a touchdown with 8:33 remaining in the game. An 80-yard drive ended with Nathan Emert's sneak from the 1, but the Saints only left 2:43 on the clock.
They needed a prayer answered and, because they had missed the PAT, they needed more than a field goal to win their first opener since 2000.
Ray, who had carried for two touchdowns, ran a keeper through a hole off left tackle and was across the 45 when he was stripped of the football by Shawn Fisher. Jason Friesen recovered, putting Shiloh Christian in business at its own 45 with 1:49 remaining.
Three plays netted four yards and left the Saints with a fourth-and-4 at their own 49. "At halftime, we made an adjustment because we saw [their secondary] flying down anytime we were sprinting out," Wood said. "We told Luke that if he saw his brother scrambling, he would run a comeback and then turn it upfield... which he did.
"Luke and Nathan have played catch every day in their backyard since they were little ... On that fourth-down play, Nathan was throwing to his brother and nobody else."
The protection on the game-winning pass could not have been better if the Secret Service has been called in. Benton was blitzing, as Wood expected.
"I figured they were going to come with it and try to get the ball out of [Nathan's] hands pretty quick,"Wood said.
Austin McLennan, who made just one of four previous point-after attempts, gave Shiloh Christian a 4-point cushion. It meant that Benton would need a touchdown to win.
The Panthers' final drive lasted one play. Brad Mayes intercepted Ray's overthrown pass to put an end to the three-hour contest.
"Our hats off to Coach [Marcus] Jones and that Benton team,"Wood said."They're a great ballclub that left it all out there on the field. We just had the break in the end."
Shiloh Christian pounced on early opportunities to grab a 21-7 lead with 2:19 to play in the first half. Yet, Benton scored 10 points in 63 seconds to trim the halftime deficit to 21-17.
"Fatigue did set in,"said Wood, whose team was outnumbered by a 4-to-1 margin on the sidelines."We were tired and the last three minutes of the first half, we were just trying to get to the locker room. "Benton kept rolling those kids in against us and we were tied. I can't say we weren't."
Early on, Shiloh Christian took the game to Benton. The Saints accepted a 2-point gratuity when the first Benton snap of the game went over Ray's head and into the end zone where the Panthers fell on it for a safety.
McLennan ended a 49-yard drive with a 1-yard run to make it 9-0 and Friesen slammed in from a yard out to make it 15-0 before the first quarter had concluded.
After Benton finally scored — on a 6-yard pass from Ray to Jon Chris Roberts — the Saints answered with a 59-yard touchdown reception by Brady Arthur.
Nathan Emert finished with the two long touchdown passes. He was 26-of-43 for 367 yards. The Panthers had three interceptions and a strong second-half effort by defensive back Chris Schwen spoiled by the defeat.Schwen forced a fumble, picked off a pass and returned it to set up a 22-yard field goal — which was missed — and broke up a pass on Shiloh Christian's final drive.