Tuesday, September 09, 2008

SPORTS>>Rivarly game adds another chapter

Leader sports editor

Lonoke head coach Jeff Jones probably has a real good sense of the Beebe offense after studying game film from the Badgers’ season-opening win at Greenbrier last Friday.

What he may still be in the dark about is the Badgers’ defense.

That’s because Beebe held on to the ball for nearly three-fourths of the contest, including a 20-play, 97-yard, 10-minute touchdown drive.

Of course, there may not be a lot to be gleaned from watching film of Beebe’s offense, given that it’s pretty much straight-ahead-stop-us-if-you-can running, mostly with All-State fullback Sammy Williams.

But Jones has no plans of trying to milk the clock when his Jackrabbits, season-opener winners against Dumas a week ago Monday, get the ball.

“We’re going to do what we do,” Jones said. “They’re going to do what they do. We’re more concerned with what we’re doing.”

What Lonoke does is get it and go. The ’Rabbits will run out of the Spread when they travel to Beebe on Friday for a 7 p.m. rivalry game. The two teams have played every year for the past three decades. The Badgers, under second-year head coach John Shannon, will run out of the Dead-T.

“Lonoke is really athletic,” said Shannon, whose Badgers beat Greenbrier 28-14. “(Clarence Harris) looks like their best receiver and their fastest kid, but (Michael Howard) can also catch the ball. And they’ve got a good tailback in (Brandon Smith) and their quarterback throws the ball real well.

“They’re just so much more athletic than us.”

But not nearly as physical, a concern for Jones as he tries to build momentum from a 35-20 win over Dumas in Pine Bluff.

“We can’t match up with them size-wise,” Jones said. “We have to shore up and be more physical. They’re going to come out and hit us in the mouth and we’re going to have to stand toe to toe with them.”

The Badgers relied on Williams most of the night against Greenbrier. The senior rushed 28 times for 128 yards. But it’s not just Williams that the ‘

’Rabbits must focus on. Four or five other backs accounted for the remaining 34 Beebe totes on Friday.

To compliment the off-tackle power running of Williams, Shannon can give the ball to the quicker, flashier Brandon Purcell, who picked up 55 yards on just six carries, as well as Luke Gardner and Victor Howell. Throw in the heady running of quarterback Roger Glaude and the Badger offense is suddenly a little more flexible than it might first appear.

“We were very pleased with Roger,” Shannon said. “He ran the option very well, kept it when he was suppose to keep it. And Brandon is our best athlete. We wanted to keep rotating in a fresher bunch of halfbacks in the game and that was kind of my fault.

“We want to set up the option with Sammy. When the defense starts sucking in on Sammy, hit them with a 10-15 yard option play.”

Or a pass play, even. Twice against Greenbrier, the Badgers showed just how honest you have to play them by connecting on long passes off play-action fakes. One went for a 55-yard touchdown to Purcell.

“They’ll run, run, run and when you load up to stop the run, they’ll sneak somebody by you for six,” Jones said.

Lonoke got a taste of physical play when it went up against 220-pound Dumas quarterback Darien Griswold in the opener. He was a load to bring down, though Joel Harris, Lance Jackson and Eric Graydon mostly kept him in check, something that hardly came as a surprise to Jones.

“Joel led us in tackles a year ago,” he said. “He’s just an outstanding football player. And Lance was third in tackles last year.

They’re both veterans. We expected that from those two. We’ll need the other nine to step up and equal them this week.”

The ’Rabbits struggled early offensively against the Bobcats before finding a rhythm and finishing with a balanced attack.

Clarence Harris and Smith each went for 77 on the ground, while quarterback Rollins Elam, appearing to be fully recovered from last season’s broken ankle, threw for two touchdowns and 252 yards.

Jones is viewing this game in the same light he viewed the opener against Dumas, as an opportunity for his Jackrabbits, considered among a handful of favorites to win the 4A state title, to get better.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” he said. “We have our work cut out for us this week. Beebe is a hardnosed, quality team. But that gives us a chance to get better and to come out better prepared for our conference.”