Tuesday, June 09, 2009

SPORTS >> Jackrabbits get mixed reviews

Leader sports editor

Other than the uniforms and a couple of returning regulars, the Lonoke Jackrabbits were nearly unrecognizable at the Sonic Air Raid 7-on-7 Tournament on Saturday afternoon.

Almost all of the key principles are gone, from head coach Jeff Jones to quarterback Rollins Elam, his fleet receiving duo of Clarence Harris and Michael Howard and another reliable receiver in Joel Harris. In their place is new head coach Doug Bost, quarterback Michael Nelson and a slew of new faces in the receiving corps.

Despite all those losses, the Jackrabbits received a mixed review from Bost after their 7th-place finish at the Air Raid at Harding University in Searcy.

“I told them I thought we had real good intensity in the morning and played real well,” said Bost, whose team went 2-3 on the day. “But we came out after lunch and we just didn’t have much intensity. We only had 13 kids and the heat wears on you.

“I wish we had a few more skill guys but this is what we’ve got.”

Nelson, who has assumed the starting quarterback role with the departure from the team of Logan DeWhitt, was spotty on Saturday. Like the rest of the team, the senior was sharp early but flat in the afternoon. The Jackrabbits went 2-1 in pool play, beating Searcy and CAC and losing to Pulaski Academy.

Lonoke looked its best in a 32-12 win over CAC in the third pool game, jumping to a 16-0 lead on a pair of touchdowns and an interception in the end zone by linebacker Tommy Scott. (Interceptions are worth two points.)

Keely Bryant’s pick made it 18-2 before CAC closed to 18-10. But Lonoke answered with a 40-yard strike from Nelson to
Darius Scott, who broke open down the right sideline. Tommy Scott added another pick and Darius Scott finished the scoring by catching a pass on the right sideline and running untouched for a 40-yard touchdown and propelling the Jackrabbits into the championship bracket.

But after the hour-and-a-half lunch break, Lonoke never looked the same. Greenbrier jumped all over the ’Rabbits in the first round of bracket play, racing to a 31-0 lead. Nelson threw a pair of picks and Lonoke went out on downs on its other two possessions.

“Michael threw some good balls in the morning,” Bost said. “In the afternoon, he didn’t throw so well, and he knows that. But he’s going to work on it. He’s a competitor. That’s why we come to these 7 on 7s — to get better. And so the quarterback can learn to read defenses.”

The Jackrabbits finally broke through when Nelson hit Blake Dill on a fade route for an eight- yard touchdown. But Greenbrier went on to post a 38-7 win.

The start was better but the ending the same when Lonoke took on Des Arc in an elimination game. Nelson hit Blake Dill to the 15 and Darius Scott to the 8 before Scott eventually caught a one-yard touchdown pass to put Lonoke up 6-0.

But Lonoke, which got burned a couple of times on deep passes against Greenbrier, gave up a 40-yard touchdown pass and the game was knotted at 6.

“They hit us on the 7 route and the post route down the middle a couple of times,” Bost said. “When you’re a safety, you can’t stand and watch or it’s going to go right over your head.”

Des Arc scored twice to take an 18-6 lead. Darius Scott pulled down a sensational one-handed touchdown grab in the back of the end zone to cut the lead to 18-12, but Lonoke could never get the ball back and its play in the Air Raid came to an end.

Darius Scott appeared to be the go-to guy on Saturday, though Dill and Todd Hobson are a pair of tall outside receivers that Bost was high on.

Lonoke was shorthanded, with several players playing summer baseball and tight end/fullback Morgan Linton away at an Arkansas State team camp.

“We had some fatigue set in,” Bost said. “We don’t have that many skill guys and we’ve got guys going both ways, but you’ve got to play yourself into shape because it’s going to be that way in the real season.”

Lonoke takes on Cabot today in 7-on-7 action and will return to Harding University on the weekend for another 7-on-7 tournament.