Tuesday, November 11, 2008

SPORTS>>Badgers host former league foe Blytheville in an opening round

Leader sportswriter

What Beebe coach John Shannon referred to as a “friendly rivalry” will be renewed this Friday at Bro ‘Erwin’ Stadium when Blytheville visits the Badgers for a first-round Class 5A playoff game.

The Badgers and Chickasaws were conference mates for six years in the 5A-East Conference before Beebe moved to the Southeast this season. Last year’s game decided the No. 2 seed in the conference, with Blytheville taking a 32-22 win at Beebe.

“I think it’s a good thing,” said Shannon. “The kids are all familiar with each other. Just the fact that we had to play Greenwood in the first round last year, and you heard all the stories about how good they were and all of that, but weren’t really that familiar with them.

“Now we’re going into a gamewith a team that we’ve played as recently as last year, and our kids have all played each other since junior high. We’re confident that we can play with them. Both teams have a lot of respect for each other.”

Beebe (8-2) lost its only conference game of the season this year to Monticello on its way to claiming the No. 2 seed out of the Southeast Conference. The Badgers ended their league campaign on a high note last week when they pulled away from a speedy Sylvan Hills team to take a 35-19 win, securing the second seed.

The Chickasaws (7-3) have lost three out of their past four games, but those losses came to overall second-ranked Helena West-Helena, Forrest City and Batesville. They started the season out on a six-game winning streak that included an impressive non-conference win over 6A contender Jonesboro.

They will be without one of their biggest weapons on offense, with senior Jarvis Jones out for the season with a broken hand.

Jones also started at free safety. But plenty of threats still remain, including fullback Josh Woodruff, who has 686 yards rushing through seven games.

Woodruff was out for most of the West Helena game and all of the Batesville and Paragould games, but returned in style last week with a 145-yard rushing performance against Forrest City.

Don Jackson and Donnell Humphries have also rushed for more than 500 yards this season.

The Chickasaws’ biggest rebuilding project has been at the quarterback position. Senior Jonathan Smith started the season, but was replaced by junior Jacob Ritchey last week. Smith has 377 passing yards on 31 of 77 attempts and 7 touchdowns, but has also thrown five interceptions. He saw time last week, although Ritchey was under center for the majority of the game, finishing 4 of 14 for 94 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

Beebe and Blytheville have a lot of similarities. Both run a 50 defense, and are both run-based teams. The Chickasaws use the tricky Wing-T formation, while Beebe relies on the three-back Dead-T set.

“There’s really no advantage for either team,” said Shannon. “For them, it’s going to come down to stopping our off-tackle run.

That’s our best play. And for us, it’s going to be stopping their sweep, which is their best play.

“They’re really potent on offense. They don’t throw a lot, but they have tons of speed. They’re not as big as last year, but they’re just as fast if not faster.”

Badger running back Sammy Williams has rushed for close to 1,150 yards during the regular season, and is benefiting from the support of his backfield mates.

Brandon Pursell’s contributions have increased steadily throughout the season, and senior Luke Gardner has also made a difference the past two weeks after being used sparingly as a receiver for most of the season.

“We didn’t hit the dive as much early on,” Shannon said. “It wasn’t working for whatever reason. But lately, it’s opened up and those two have done a good job picking up the slack. Teams can’t just key in on Sammy anymore, they have to honor all three.”