By JASON KING
Justin Smith gave Lonoke fans plenty to cheer about during the Jackrabbits’ 50-14 clubbing of Southside Batesville Friday.
The crowd at James B. Abraham Stadium had its disappointment over the absence of injured stars Wes Plummer, Darius Scott and Justin Carpenter quickly replaced with jubilation over Smith’s standout defensive performance.
The senior defensive back pulled down three interceptions, two of which set the ’Rabbits (5-1, 2-1 2-4A Conference) up in scoring position. Smith also picked up a fumbled Southside lateral to give Lonoke first and goal at the 6 for another touchdown in the second quarter.
Smith also came close to grabbing two more interceptions, while sophomore Essick Shepard and junior Mike Holder also picked off passes.
“Those guys that have been backups all year had the opportunity to come in there, and they did the job,” Lonoke coach Doug Bost said. “It’s good that those guys can get that kind of experience tonight. We let them play with us in the first half, and were kind of disappointed at halftime.
“We challenged them. The offensive line came out, and we were able to run the ball in the second half.”
Plummer was out because of an injured elbow, Scott suffered from back spasms all week and Carpenter sat out with a concussion. But Smith played the game of his career to take up the slack for Plummer and Scott.
“We just played as a team,” Smith said. “We went out there and we got the job done. We were rolling in our coverage, and everyone was getting their assignments.
“The quarterback, I just looked at his eyes the whole time, and I could see where he was throwing it.”
The dominant defensive performance allowed the Jackrabbits to experiment on offense. Sophomore running back Eric Williams turned in a workhorse effort with 15 carries for 170 yards and a touchdown, while Bost put junior quarterback Terrale Watson in for over half the game.
Watson, who earned the starting job two days before sustaining an ankle injury in August, looked solid despite having no playing time prior to Friday. He completed 4 of 8 pass attempts for 46 yards and a touchdown, and had one rush for 15 yards late in the game before taking a knee on three straight plays to end it.
“That was the game plan coming in,” Bost said. “Just good to get him some game action. I think he completed a couple of passes, and took off on a run. That’s good, in case we ever need him down the line. It was good to see him back out there.”
Smith earned a local radio station’s player of the game honor for his efforts.
“I’ll tell you what, he had three, and maybe two more right there that he could have easily had,” Bost said of the interceptions. “He showed some great senior leadership, and he’s a great senior for us. I was proud of him, and he had a big night for us.”
Logan DeWhitt finished 8 of 15 passing for 169 yards and two touchdowns. D.J. Burton led the receivers with five receptions for 103 yards and two touchdowns.
The Jackrabbits finished with 536 total yards to 280 for Southside.
The Jackrabbits struck first with a 41-yard touchdown pass from DeWhitt to Blake Dill with 8:04 left in the first quarter. Dill broke from the left side to the middle and made a diving catch in the end zone.
T.J. Scott’s extra point was good to make it 7-0.
Southside’s second turnover set Lonoke up with good field position at the Southerners’ 6. Keli Bryant was stopped at the line of scrimmage on first down, but he followed a three-yard run by D.J. Burton with a three-yard touchdown run with 10:24 left in the half.
The Jackrabbits were on their way to a mercy rule rout when Essick Shephard intercepted a pass from Southside quarterback Jared Dahl at the Southerners’ 43.
DeWhitt found Scott Smith for a 12-yard pass on second down, which set up Eric Williams for a 25-yard touchdown run with 5:56 left in the half to give the ’Rabbits a 21-0 lead following Scott’s extra point.
But the Southerners (0-6, 0-3) fought back with a pair of touchdown passes late in the half. Dahl found Levi Henderson for a 53-yard pass to set Southside up with first-and-goal at the Lonoke 3, and passed to Storm Tipton on the next play for the score.
Dahl ran in the two-point conversion to cut it to 21-8.