BENTON — All season, Benton coach Bob Pankey has made a conscious effort not to address playoff hopes with his players.
The figurative elephant in the Rangers’ locker room is calling for their attention now.
Friday night, Benton locked down the fifth win required to become playoff-eligible, pulling away after a first half rife with mistakes for a 53-13 SIRR Ohio rout of winless Massac County at Tabor Field.
If the Rangers (5-2, 3-1) win next week at Murphysboro, they will make the playoffs for the first time since 2012, no questions asked.
“These kids were in seventh grade the last time Benton football made the playoffs,” Pankey said. “We haven’t talked about it much this year, but it’s been a goal of theirs. They want to get the program back to the playoffs.”
Quarterback Hamilton Page, one of 10 seniors playing their final home game, accounted for 340 total yards. Page rushed for 127 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries while hitting 21 of 39 passes for 213 yards and another score. At least six passes were dropped, eating into his completion percentage.
Another senior, 225-pound fullback Blane Pankey, churned out 117 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries, routinely breaking tackles. Senior Bailey Hopson caught six passes for 67 yards, including a 17-yard scoring catch on a deflected pass with 15.3 seconds left in the first half for a 28-13 lead.
The Patriots (0-7, 0-4) kept the game competitive for about 2 ½ quarters. They actually could have taken the lead midway through the second quarter when they reached the Rangers’ 29 after converting a second straight fourth down.
But Massac County turned it over on down and Benton scored on the ensuing possession, starting a run of 38 unanswered points.
“We put together a good drive, get a stop, and then things go wrong,” Patriots coach John Warren said. “We turn it over, we get a penalty, we make a mistake, we have a bad play call. Until we stop doing those things, we’ll continue to lose games.”
Quarterback Mason Corzine threw for 188 yards and a touchdown for Massac County, finding athletic wideout Isaiah Thompson on a 63-yard pass-and-run score early in the second quarter.
However, the Rangers finished with 464 total yards and 27 first downs, wearing down the Patriots with their running game.
“We’re not done yet,” Bob Pankey said, “but I’m proud of them for what we’ve accomplished so far.”