OSCEOLA – Lonoke earned its ticket to the 4A state finals through the air in a 28-7, semifinal victory over Osceola on Friday night at Seminole Stadium.
Senior quarterback Michael Nelson was responsible for 419 of the Jackrabbits’ 448 total yards, and he provided 347 of those with his right arm. Nelson went 20 of 39 passing for all four Lonoke touchdowns, and the Jackrabbits silenced the Seminoles except for one late special teams play with 8:34 left in the game.
“Words don’t describe this,” fullback Morgan Linton said. “This has been our team’s dream ever since I can remember. In ninth grade, we won out 9-1. When we left that last game in junior high, we said we were coming to War Memorial.
“Back when we were in pee-wee, I think we were 36-1, and we said we’re going to War Memorial. Words can’t describe how bad we’ve wanted that.”
Lonoke (11-3) will play for the 4A championship next week against Shiloh Christian at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. Shiloh Christian ended Bald Knob’s unbeaten season, 48-7, in Friday’s other semifinal.
Lonoke already had the game in hand by the time Osceola got its late score on a 75-yard kick return by Tony Dancy. Nelson had just connected with Brandon Smith for an 11-yard touchdown pass set up by an interception and 38-yard return by Todd Hobson into Osceola territory.
It was Hobson’s second interception of the night.
The Jackrabbits had their chances to blow the game open in the first half, but came up empty on three trips inside the Seminoles 20. Their first drive in the second half had the same result, but Nelson and company came up big on three of their next four possessions.
“The guys were moving the ball and doing good things,” Jackrabbits coach Doug Bost said.
“It was just that when we got down there, we weren’t punching it in. That cost us some games earlier in the season, and that’s all we talked about. When we get down there, we have to score.”
Lonoke finally broke through the red zone to finish a 10-play, 38-yard drive when Nelson found Blake Dill for a 13-yard touchdown pass with 4:01 left in the third quarter. T.J. Scott’s extra-point attempt was blocked to leave it at 13-0.
Darius Scott ended the Seminoles’ ensuing trip into Lonoke territory with an interception in the end zone. Scott returned the ball to the Lonoke 36, but a chop-block penalty pushed the Jackrabbits back to their own 13.
That drive eventually stalled at the Osceola 45, but three straight incompletions by Seminoles quarterback Baylor Winston gave the ball right back to the ’Rabbits at their 20.
From there, it took only two plays for Nelson to complete a screen pass to Scott, who broke a tackle at the 35 and another near midfield before streaking down the right sideline for a 78-yard touchdown.
Nelson passed to Hobson for the conversion that gave Lonoke a 21-0 lead.
“That was our game plan coming in,” Bost said.
“We had film on them, and people weren’t able to run the ball on them. We knew we were getting man-to-man coverage across the board on all the receivers, so we worked real hard to where if you could fake them inside and go outside or vice versa, we needed to make some plays there.
“I’m sure we missed some, but they were sending six or seven at Mike every time.”
Lonoke first scored on a 15-yard pass from Nelson to Linton with 3:53 left in the first quarter. Linton took the screen pass from the right side and bulled his way through the middle of the field for the score, and T.J. Scott added the extra-point to make it 7-0.
Scott led with 4 receptions for 115 yards and a touchdown. Hobson had 7 catches for 50 yards, his two-point conversion and his two interceptions.
Smith, held to 29 yards on the ground, had 5 receptions for 52 yards and a touchdown.
Dancy had 17 carries for 56 yards for Osceola (11-2-1), while Kelton Jacobs got most of the Seminoles’ remaining 184 yards with 76 on 17 rushing attempts.
Shiloh Christian (12-1) is the defending 4A state champion, with its only loss to 5A school Greenwood in Week 3. The Saints ended the ’Rabbits playoff run last season in a 47-7 rout, but Linton was not worried about history after Friday’s big victory.
“Anyone is beatable any given night,” he said.