By Jason King
There’s one more storm for Lonoke to weather before the Jackrabbits get a bit of a break to start the second half of the season.
The ’Rabbits (4-0, 1-0 2-4A) came back from an 18-7 deficit late in Friday’s game to defeat league contender Heber Springs 21-18 and pass their first conference test. Lonoke will face another tough opponent this week when it travels north to face a fleet Newport team.
Senior running back and Ole Miss signee Artez Brown leads a Newport team that went winless through the first three weeks before picking up its first victory last week against Cave City to begin 2-4A Conference play.
“They’re a good team; we’veseen the film and we know that,” Jackrabbits coach Doug Bost said. “On film, you can see about 10 guys that can run. They are very similar to McGehee, but overall, they’re probably the fastest team we’ve seen all year with eight to 10 guys that can run 4.6 or less.”
The Greyhounds use Brown’s presence in the backfield as a threat in a play-action passing game while running a 5-2 defense.
“They send six every time,” Bost said. “We feel good about our pass protection. There’s going to be a lot of one-on-one battles. We’re going to work on our receivers running routes, and, I guess you could say, trick plays.
“But the main thing is going to be getting our receivers to run good routes.”
The run game has been hit and miss for the Jackrabbits early, but junior running back Keli Bryant emerged in the second half against Heber Springs to post career numbers. Bryant carried four times for only 16 yards in the first half, but exploded for 84 yards on 12 carries in the second half to finish with an even 100 yards.
But Bryant’s 30-yard rush up the middle to score the winning touchdown with 2:36 to play Friday has by far been his biggest contribution. Bryant looked like a different back in the second half, beginning Lonoke’s second drive of the third quarter with a 35-yard run.
“We just preached to him about hitting the hole hard,” Bost said. “He always had a false step as he got the ball. But he came out and started hitting it at full speed without the false step, and it made a huge difference.
“We just told him to run it as hard as he can and trust that your blocking is going to be there.”
It took a five-game winning streak for the Jackrabbits to qualify for the postseason in 2009 after early conference setbacks.
Now, at 1-0 in conference, Lonoke enters Friday on a four-game winning streak.
Lonoke’s last loss was to Shiloh Christian in the state championship.
A victory over Newport does not guarantee a league title for Lonoke with traditionally tough Stuttgart waiting to host the Jackrabbits in Week 9, but home games against Cave City and Batesville Southside the next two weeks should not have nearly the implications as Friday’s game.
“We talked about that last week, ”Bost said. “We dug a 0-2 hole for ourselves last year. We’ve talked about coming out good at the start this year and see if we can’t come out 2-0 against some really good teams.