Tuesday, November 02, 2010

SPORTS>>Beebe could win it all

By Jason King
Leader sportswriter

The game needs no other pitch or hype than calling it the “the big one.”

Although “The War on the White River” does have a nice ring.

Beebe will go for its first outright conference championship in 13 years Friday when the Badgers travel to Batesville’s Pioneer Stadium to face the unbeaten Pioneers. It is the same Pioneers team that knocked the Badgers out of the 5A-East Conference championship race in 2005.

The stage was set last week when Batesville squeaked out an 18-13, road victory over Greene County Tech while Beebe pummeled rebuilding Nettleton 41-10.

The Badgers (6-3, 6-0) were not expected to contend this year after finishing last season 3-7 and beginning this year with three consecutive losses. But a hard-fought, 41-33 victory over Forrest City in Week 5set the tone for a strong run in the second half of the season, leading up to Friday’s chance for Beebe to win the top playoff seed.

“We feel like we’ve turned the corner,” Badgers coach John Shannon said. “ We dropped off some last year, and that’s one thing you worry about as a coach. You’re always going to have ups and downs, and we knew coming in this year, we were still going to be considered a young team. But we thought we were better than what we were last year.

“We didn’t start well, but the kids never gave up and kept working and fighting.”

Batesville (9-0, 6-0) has won the last four meetings. The Pioneers needed overtime to claim a 20-14 victory in 2004 before winning a 5A-East conference showdown 39-6 the next year and knocking the Badgers, who were vying for the top spot, down to a No. 4 seed.

The Pioneers routed the Badgers again, 42-14, in 2006, but Beebe almost pulled off the upset in 2007, falling 23-20 in Shannon’s first season.

“I think it’s going to be a tough, hard fought ballgame,” Batesville coach Dave King said. “They’re big up front and they run the ball well — they kind of remind us of us. Our kids run the ball really well, and so do theirs.”

Each team has its premier running back. Beebe features senior fullback Colby Taylor (6-0, 160 pounds) and Batesville has sophomore tailback Jordan Childress (5-8, 170).

Both have rushed for over 100 yards in each conference game, with the exception of the 64 yards Taylor gained in the first half of a one-sided victory over Blytheville in which he was taken out before halftime.

Childress averages just over 130 yards per game while Taylor is averaging 179.3.

Taylor has rushed for 1,076 yards since the start of the conference season, including 305 last week against Nettleton.

“He’s a fast runner,” King said. “Just give him a crease, and he can go.”

But there is a big difference between Nettleton’s defense, which has six sophomore starters, and that of the Pioneers, who have given up an average 8.8 points a game. Batesville has held three opponents to 14 points, two to 13 and all other opponents to one score or less, including a 57-0 shutout over Nettleton to begin the conference schedule.

“They’ve always played really good defense,” Shannon said. “My first year, we played them in the last conference game of the year, and we were only able to score twice on them. They’re always solid and hard nosed. This will most likely be our most physical game of the year.”

The Pioneers are based offensively in the I formation, but can also show multiple looks.

“They definitely want to run the ball more than they want to throw it,” Shannon said. “With all those multiple formations, if you don’t line up right, they can catch you off guard and get a big play. We have to play good, solid defense to match all their motion and different formations.

“We want to put them in a position of having to do something they don’t want to. They don’t look like they want to throw it much, so maybe we can get them to where they have to go to a passing game.”

The Pioneers are tops in the conference defensively and second only to Beebe on offense. The Badgers have averaged 42.8 points a game since the start of conference play, an unusually high number for a pure running team, while Batesville has averaged 40.5 points over six games.

Beebe last claimed an outright conference championship in 1997 as a 4A school, when most of the players who make up this year’s team were still preschool age.

The game appears to hinge greatly on how Beebe operates against Batesville’s stingy defense, but Shannon said there would be no new tricks up his sleeve.

“We’re going to stick with what got us there,” Shannon said. “There may be situations where we can go to a pass to try and keep the defense honest and not stack the box, but we feel like one advantage we have is that the kids know what to do on offense.

“We feel like our offense puts defenses in a bind. Hopefully, our kids can keep the chains moving, and keep their offense off the field.”