Tuesday, September 23, 2008

SPORTS>>Jackrabbits look to build on momentum

Leader sportswriter

The stakes will be raised this week when Heber Springs rolls into Lonoke on Friday for the first game of the 2-4A Conference season for both programs. The Jackrabbits took last year’s game at Heber after the Panthers won at Abraham Field back in 2006.

It has been a visitor’s series so far, but the Jackrabbits are hoping to turn that around this Friday. They started their home stand out strong last week with a 41-38 upset win over Central Arkansas Christian in a final-minute thriller, building crucial momentum heading into this week’s 2-4A opener.

“We feel like we’ve improved each week,” Lonoke coach Jeff Jones said. “We’re going to take that approach into practice this week. (The Panthers) have a big back, and they’re going to be showing us a lot of different looks. They’re also big up front, so it is going to be a good challenge for us.”

Heber Springs coach Steve Janski said there is one hope for his team to successfully defend and stop the Lonoke passing game on Friday.

“Only if they drop it,” Janski said. “They have speed at every position — just tremendous athletes. There’s really nothing youcan do when you’re outmatched like that. There’s no way to simulate the speed your kids will see on the practice field. The only thing we can do is the same thing we did when we beat them two years ago and that’s to keep their offense off the field as much as you can.”

That win came with a physical game out of the clock-killing Wing-T offense for Heber. This year, Janski has gone to a more multiple attack.

“I try to fit our offense around our kids,” Janski said. “We keep the fundamentals the same, but we line up a little different. We haven’t clicked just yet — we’ve been beating ourselves.”

Another thing that seems to be improving for the Jackrabbits is their depth. The usual suspects stepped up and had good games on Friday, and new names popped up on the radar as well. Junior Morgan Linton has been strong offensively since the start of the season, but came through on the defensive side with over 10 tackles. On the offensive side, fellow junior and tailback Brandon Smith came up big in the Lonoke backfield with close to 80-yards rushing, and converted several ’Rabbit first downs on both short and long yardage situations.

“How about Brandon Smith?” said Jones. “No one knew about him. That guy can run the ball too. He played an outstanding game for us offensively and defensively. Linton was all over the place. If he wasn’t making the tackle, he was allowing someone else to make it because of his play up front — he’s outstanding.”

The biggest opponent working against the Panthers so far this season has been the Panthers themselves, according to Janski.

He said a win is important on Friday, but only possible if the turnover and penalty situations improve.

Last week’s loss to Greenbrier featured four turnovers and a whopping 13 penalties, and the season-opening loss to Hoxie saw the Panthers give up three turnovers and commit eight penalties.

“We would love it if we got all the mistakes out of the way at this point,” Janski said. “We’re a young team, but our offense has the ability to be successful if we correct those mistakes. If we’ve got it all worked out, it could be a close, great game. If we don’t, it could be a long Friday.”