BENTON, La (KMSS/KTAL) – Last year, the Benton Tigers battled back from a 14-0 deficit to knock out Hahnville for their first playoff win in 5A since moving up from 4A in 2019.

“You see some progress,” said Head Coach Reynolds Moore. “Then you see in the second round at Ruston, there’s still some work to be done and our guys have really taken that into account since November.”

For linebacker Zach Halbert, that work included getting bigger.

“Everyday he would walk up and he would tell me what he weighed that morning,” said Moore. “It was just climbing every single day, every single week.”

“I was thinking if I can hit as hard as I can at 160, imagine what I can do at 195,” said Halbert.

“He’s a mean football player on the field,” added Moore. “He’s the kind of guy that you’re glad is on your side. You would think differently of him if he played on the other team.”

While Zach holds things down on defense, on offense, Gray Walters returns at quarterback, throwing to Pearce Russell, who set the Benton record for single season receiving yards last year. 

“We’ve been best friends since we were four years old,” said Walters on his relationship with Russell. “We’ve always played football together.”

“We’ve been fortunate to have some really good quarterbacks play here,” said Moore. “Gray Walters is certainly in that mix. How he handles himself, conducts himself and manages the offense. And Pearce Russell may be the best football player I’ve ever coached.”

Benton will need that talent, as the Tigers face some of the area’s best competition to start the season.

“We want to make a statement,” said Moore on his decision to play to three tough non-district games.

“Northwood, it’s going to be a dog fight,” said Halbert. “It was last year, and I think it’ll be again this year. Then we have Texas High, a Texas powerhouse. But I mean they’re at our house, and I think it should be a great game. And Arch Manning of course, it’s going to be a cool experience but it’s nothing we can’t handle.”

“They’ve played a lot of football,” said Moore. “They’ve seen a lot of things. They’ve been in a lot of big games. So you would think from the top down it’d be really tough to rattle us this year.”

Benton kicks off the year against Northwood Thursday, September 1.