Saturday, November 06, 2010

SPORTS>>North Pulaski ends season with grit and frustration

By Jason king
Leader sporswriter

North Pulaski coach Terrod Hatcher will accept no moral victories.

That was evident moments after the Falcons’ closer than expected, 20-6 defeat by Monticello in the season finale at Falcons Field on Thursday.

Hatcher, in his first season as head coach and the youngest coach in the state at 23, was in no mood to compliment his team’s gritty performance against an opponent that had crushed the Falcons a combined 104-22 in the previous two meetings.

The Billies (7-3, 5-2 5A-Southeast) dominated the game despite three red-zone turnovers and hung on to the No. 3 seed out of the 5A-Southeast with some help from Mills’ 14-9 victory over White Hall on Thursday.

The Falcons (1-9, 1-6) kept themselves in the game with a flex defense that gave up 252 yards rushing but was opportunistic with turnovers. North Pulaski got its only score with just over five minutes left to play to make it 14-6, but the Billies answered to end the scare.

“We had breakdowns, breakdowns, breakdowns,” Hatcher said. “We have to get better. We always break down on big plays, and we can’t have it. We’ve got to figure out how to win. That’s the deal — they don’t know how to win yet.”

Defensive lineman Schyler Spencer gave North Pulaski a chance when he recovered a fumble by Monticello’s Trey Hawkins at the Falcons 25-yard line with 10:07 left to play and the Falcons trailing 14-0.

Junior quarterback Shyheim Barron and the North Pulaski offense had been stifled all night by a swarming Billies defense, but the Falcons put together a drive that went 75 yards in 12 plays, ending with an 18-yard touchdown run by Dwaine Davis on a reverse sweep with 5:13 remaining.

Monticello blocked Austin Allen’s extra-point attempt to keep it at 14-6.

Billies senior quarterback Marcie Roberson put the team on his back in the final minutes, leading a 55-yard drive that ate up all but the final 1:38. The Falcons defense had the Billies at fourth-and-nine at the North Pulaski 18, but Roberson drew the defenders to the right side with an option reverse and took it in himself for the final score.

“When we need big plays, we can’t make them,” Hatcher said. “That’s what makes a team right there; when you make big plays during crunch time, that’s the most important thing and we can’t do it. Right now, it’s not a winning effort, and we’ve got to get better.”

Hawkins, the Billies’ senior running back, turned in a workhorse night with 24 carries for 122 yards, and had three receptions for another 50 yards. One of those catches came on an 18-yard pass from Roberson with 1:58 left in the first quarter to give Monticello a14-0 lead, which held up until the last five minutes.

“I didn’t think that we were real focused before the football game,” Monticello coach Johnny McMurry said. “We kind of played that way, but you have to hand it to those guys. The coaches did a great job of getting them ready to play, and we knew that they played hard. And they played hard tonight.

“I was proud of our team. We didn’t play our best football, but we got it done at the end and got a win.”

The Billies controlled both clock and field position in the second half, only to give the ball away repeatedly. Monticello’s first drive of the second half went 65 yards in 15 plays and ate 7:30 off the clock, but Roberson struggled with a snap on first-and-goal at the Falcons 9.

Nick Dunn recovered for North Pulaski, which punted back to the Billies at its 48 after three plays.

“That’s something we haven’t done lately,” McMurry said.

“We’ve been pretty good about not having turnovers. We won the football game — the thing that we’ve got to do now is come back this next week and get focused.”

Barron completed 7 of 18 passes for 100 yards with one interception, and overcame negative 31 rushing yards in the first half that came because of a high snap and a pair of Monticello sacks

The Falcons finished with 101 rushing yards, led by Derrick Hart’s seven carries for 58 yards.

SPORTS>>Hardwood must wait for Devils

By todd traub
Leader sports editor

Jacksonville boys basketball coach Vic Joyner is a team player, so he is hoping he is without the biggest part of his team a while longer.

Thanks to the Red Devils reaching the football playoffs, Joyner will have to do without seven players as he prepares to start the season.

“My basketball team right now basically is football,” Joyner said at Tuesday’s Red and White games at the Devil’s Den. “I’ve got seven guys down there right now who are an integral part of what we need to do. So right now the jury is still out.

“We don’t exactly know what we’re going to be until we get those guys together to mix them in the gym.”

Jacksonville had six football victories and was already a postseason lock heading into Friday’s regular-season finale at Marion and was bidding for a second seed from the 7A/6A-East Conference and a possible first-round playoff bye.

With conference champion West Memphis, a 7A team, moving on the 7A playoffs, it would open things up for either Jacksonville or Marion to take a 6A second seed, behind Jonesboro, with a victory.

That would be good for the football team because the players would get a week of rest, but it would extend the time Joyner would be working with his basketball team less than intact.

“Who knows when they’re going to get in the gym?” Joyner said.

But that’s okay, Joyner said. In the interest of overall athletic success for the Red Devils, he is willing to bide his time and is rooting for Jacksonville to go all the way to the 6A championship game at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium on Dec. 4.

Even if that means he doesn’t have his whole roster for today’s jamboree in which Jacksonville will play Sylvan Hills and North Pulaski, of the 5A-Southeast Conference.

“Thank God they’re still playing,” Joyner said of the football team. “I’d like to see them win a state title.”

Among the key basketball players still in football pads are senior receivers Jamison Williams and Xavier Brown, sophomore quarterback Aaron Smith, sophomore receiver Kevin Richardson and junior receiver David Johnson and sophomore tight end Brandon Brockman.

“In my 22 years of coaching, seven kids and two or three starters down there is the most I ever had in football,” Joyner said. “So this will be the first time we’ll be kind of watered down like this early on. Normally I have 10 or 11 of my top guys in the gym.”

Among the returnees who have been practicing with the basketball team are leading scorer Raheem Appleby, a senior who was a member of the Red Devils’ 2009 state championship team; Xavier Huskey, a post player who got a few starts as a sophomore last year; James Akins, who played some “big minutes” last year, Joyner said, and Justin McCleary.

“The kids that are in the gym right now, they’ve been working hard,” Joyner said. “And who knows? They may put it together and mesh together and show well early in the season. 

I don’t know, but they’ve been working hard since after Labor Day.”

Jacksonville was undersized last year but reached the 6A state tournament, though it failed in its bid to repeat as state champion with a 67-57, second-round loss to Watson Chapel.

Joyner said, with or without the football players, his post players wouldn’t be much taller than 6-2 and the Red Devils would be a small team again this year.

With that in mind, Joyner wants to build on today’s jamboree, which also includes Pulaski Robinson, Mountain Home, Little Rock McClellan and Stuttgart.

Action begins with the junior high games from 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., followed by the first senior high scrimmage between Pulaski Robinson and Mountain Home at 1 p.m.

Jacksonville plays the final two scrimmages, against Sylvan Hills at 4:20 p.m. and crosstown rival North Pulaski, which reached the 5A finals in 2009 and the semifinals last year, at 5 p.m.

“If we get out there and get our heads busted we’ll have a little bit of time to heal our wounds and teach a little bit,” Joyner said.

SPORTS>>Clinton gets by Lonoke

Leader sports editor

Just about everything was decided except the outcome of Friday’s game, and Lonoke did its best to keep that in doubt.

Clinton, already assured a share of a 2-4A Conference championship, beat Lonoke 35-20 at James B. Abraham Field to win the title outright. Lonoke was already all but eliminated from the postseason, but the Jackrabbits turned in a stout performance.

“They didn’t give up,” Lonoke coach Doug Bost said. “That’s supposedly the best team in the conference and we played with them and a couple breaks here and there we could have easily had a victory.”

After giving up an early touchdown, Lonoke adjusted to Clinton’s running game and stayed in it until Clinton’s leading rusher Dylan Toney broke free for a 17-yard touchdown run that capped the scoring with 59.7 seconds left in the game.

“Even if we lost we would have been conference champs but we wanted it,” Clinton coach Chris Dufrene said. “We didn’t want to be in a three-way tie, these kids wanted to be outright champs and they fought hard to get there.”

Lonoke (6-4, 3-4) fought to a 14-14, halftime tie and then Clinton stopped Lonoke on the first possession of the second half and drove 77 yards to take the 21-14 lead.

The big gain was 61 yards on a long run by Toney plus penalty yardage for a horse collar tackle by Wes Plummer. The touchdown came on Toney’s one-yard run with 8:39 left in the third quarter.

Clinton (9-1, 6-1) surprised Lonoke with an onside kick that quarterback Park Parish recovered to set up the Yellowjackets at the Jackrabbits 47. But Plummer redeemed himself with a shoestring tackle on fourth down to stop Clinton short as Lonoke took over at its 39.

The Jackrabbits punted, but D.J. Burton got the ball right back with an interception to set up Lonoke at the Clinton 30 and the Jackrabbits drove for T.J. Scott’s one-yard touchdown run set up by a 14-yard completion from Tarrale Watson to Plummer.

Scott’s kick failed to leave it 21-20 Clinton and that’s the way it stayed for the rest of the third quarter.

Clinton made it 28-20 with 7:24 to go in the game when Parish completed a three-yard touchdown pass to Forrest Ivey on fourth and goal, and the score held up until Toney’s late run.

It was a disappointing finish for a Lonoke team that reached last year’s 4A state championship game, but Bost took heart in the number of young players he expects back next year.

“We only started three seniors on both sides of the ball so we knew were young,” Bost said. “We just told them to go out there and fight hard and they did.”

Clinton charged out of the opening kickoff with an eight-play scoring drive that featured gains of 11 and 16 yards by Hunter Treece and a 14-yard touchdown run by Toney.

Levi Baugh intercepted Watson to end the Jackrabbits’ first possession and Lonoke appeared to already be on the ropes.

But the Jackrabbits got a fourth-down stop and then put together a 12-play, 75-yard scoring drive. Eric Williams began the drive with a 19-yard gain, picked up 20 hard-fought yards on a screen pass and scored on a 16-yard run to tie it 7-7 with 11:48 left in the second quarter.

SPORTS>>Batesville stops Beebe to claim first in 5A-East

By Jason king
Leader sports writer

BATESVILLE – Beebe’s bid to become conference champion for the first time in 13 years and make a perfect run through the 5A-East Conference fell six minutes short as Batesville scored a late touchdown to win 17-13 on Friday at Pioneer Stadium.

The Badgers (6-4, 6-1) dominated the third quarter and appeared to have a handle on the Pioneers’ running game, led by sophomore sensation Jordan Childress. But Batesville (10-0, 7-0) stopped a Beebe drive near midfield to start the fourth quarter and began a 55-yard march that decided it.

“We knew their defense was tough coming in, and we struggled to move the football,” Beebe coach John Shannon said. “But we put a drive together to start the third quarter and got a score, and the defense played lights out in the third quarter, and most of the fourth quarter. 

We put them in a bind, and they rose to the occasion.

“You give a good team enough chances, and they’re going to capitalize. I’m proud of our guys; they never quit. They fought all the way to the end.

Jay Holdway set the Badgers up with good field position to start the second half when he returned Batesville’s kickoff to the Pioneer 38-yard line.

Quarterback Scot Gowen moved the ball near the red zone with a 12-yard run, and Michael Kirby finished the drive six plays later with a five-yard touchdown run up the middle to give Beebe its first and only lead, 13-10. Jordan Goss’s extra-point attempt was blocked.

Beebe’s defense dug in and stopped Batesville’s ensuing drive, as the Pioneers went for a pass on fourth down and came up short. But the turnover on downs was only a prelude to the bedlam that would ensue for the remainder of the third quarter.

Beebe had to punt at its 31, but the snap to punter Colby Taylor was low, allowing Chance Rogers to block the kick for the Pioneers while teammate Grant Arnold came in for the recovery.

Batesville’s fourth down resulted in a 36-yard field goal attempt and the Badgers’ Chase Weatherly blocked the kick.

But Beebe was forced to punt again and couldn’t keep Batesville down.

“We never could get those first downs going to keep their offense off the field, and it came back to bite us,” Shannon said. “Their offense is a good offense, they found a way to score, hats off to them.”

Childress played the workhorse role to near perfection for Batesville on its game-opening scoring drive.

The drive was capped with a 23-yard touchdown pass from Jordan Bailey to senior receiver Matthew Showalter with 7:16 left to play in the first quarter following the successful point-after try.

“He’s a sophomore, he’s a heck of a back, and unfortunately, we have to see him the next two years,” Shannon said of Childress, who had 39 carries for 179 yards and one touchdown.

Taylor led Beebe with 17 carries for 58 yards.

The Badgers caught their first big break of the first half when Reece Totty recovered a Bailey fumble at the Batesville 3.

Gowen threw incomplete to Matt Pursell on first down before calling his own number on second down and running 34 yards for the score with 4:52 left in the half. Goss added the extra point to tie the game at 7-7.

The Pioneers caught one last break of their own just before the half when Childress fumbled but was ruled down at the Beebe 3. The Badgers forced a 27-yard field goal to end the half 10-7.

SPORTS>>Marion beats Jacksonville for No. 2 seed

By todd traub
Leader sports editor

The good news is Jacksonville is in the playoffs.

The bad news is the Red Devils aren’t certain when they will play.

Marion beat Jacksonville 28-18 at Marion on Friday to take the No. 2 seed from the 7A/6A-East Conference. The loss cost the Red Devils a first-round bye, but they are still assured of an opening round home game.

The catch is the outcome of Van Buren’s lawsuit filed against the Arkansas Activities Association in Crawford County over inconsistencies with the new conference classifications this year and the power rankings that helped determine playoff seeding.

A decision is expected Monday morning and Jacksonville coach Rick Russell pointed out the playoffs could be delayed and teams like the Red Devils could have their seeding affected depending on how the suit is settled and the reactions of other 6A schools respond.

It also means Jacksonville must prepare for more than one team in the first round.

“That’s what we we’ll do,” Russell said. “If we get the fourth seed we’ll have Benton if Van Buren wins their lawsuit. We’ll get films from Benton and we’ll get film from Sheridan.”

But at least Jacksonville did enough this year to take care of its end of things. While losing to Marion and West Memphis to close out the season the Red Devils (6-4, 4-3) drastically improved on last year’s two victories.

“I think it’s a tremendous advantage,” Russell said of the home playoff. “You always like playing at home. The fans get to stay right there and watch us play.

“It’s kind of like a reward for the kids. They took care of business the first weeks of conference. We played some tough opponents the last two weeks.”

That would include Marion, which never trailed Friday and jumped to a 21-6 lead before having to hold off the Red Devils.

Jacksonville scored the game’s last two touchdowns, with the final score coming on a pass from Logan Perry to D’Vone McClure.

The Red Devils were stopped short on their try for the two-point conversion and Marion then recovered Jacksonville’s onside kick and got the first down needed to run out the clock.

Marion led 7-0 when Jacksonville had a promising drive end in a fumble then had to punt twice. Jacksonville was driving with a two minutes to go in the half but the possession ended this time on an interception.

Perry hit Fletcher Berkley on a touchdown pass of close to 30 yards to open the second-half scoring but the Red Devils missed the extra point to leave it 14-6.

Marion drove for another score and the 21-6 lead before Jacksonville began its comeback in earnest.

Perry hit Aaron Smith with a 35-yard scoring pass but again the extra-point attempt failed to leave the score 21-12.

The teams swapped punt and then Marion drove for its final touchdown and the 28-12 lead.

Jacksonville came back with Perry’s final touchdown pass to McClure.

“We’d like to have two of those four losses back and one of them is tonight,” Russell said of Jacksonville’s run through the season. “We’re a good football team. We have made some strides this year.”

But, Russell said, the Red Devils still have plenty to accomplish, like advancing through the playoffs to the Dec. 4 final at War Memorial Stadium.

“We’re ready to regroup and focus on the postseason,” Russell said.

Friday’s loss proved Jacksonville still has plenty of improving to do, Russell said.

“We’ve got to be focused in practice,” he said.

SPORTS>>Cabot’s gain includes pain

By todd traub
Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers won their regular season finale Thursday night, but they also took some significant losses.

Cabot rolled to a big first-half lead and beat Russellville 27-6 at Panther Stadium. But four key players went down with injuries, including starting quarterback Zach Craig who was injured on a first-half carry.

A subdued coach Mike Malham addressed the injuries voluntarily after the game, before even acknowledging the Panthers had taken a share of the 7A/6A-Central Conference championship.

“We’ll just have to wait and see,” Malham said. “We know we’re going to be playing here next Friday, probably against Heritage. We’ve just got to lick our wounds and get what we got and get them out there and get ready to go.”

Malham said it was possible Craig, who left the field with help and favoring his right knee, might be lost for the season.

“He’s been looking really good the last couple weeks, throwing and running the option,” Malham said of Craig.

The Panthers also lost running back Spencer Smith, who aggravated a shoulder injury, tight end Jesse Roberts and running back Jeremy Berry, who posted his best game with more than 200 rushing yards the previous week at Van Buren.

All were expected to see doctors on Friday.

“All of a sudden, man, you’re looking good, 21-0 first quarter and you’re cruising, ”Malham said.  “And then you’re just wanting to get one more in and let some other kids play and all of a sudden things start falling apart.”

Cabot rolled to a 21-0 first-half lead, scoring on its first three possessions. The Panthers (8-2, 6-1) tacked on another touchdown when Ian Thompson plunged in from three yards out with 7:14 left in the third quarter.

Russellville scored on a late fumble return that caught the Panthers flat-footed with 1:31 left in the game.

After addressing the injuries, Malham praised his team, which won its sixth straight game, for earning a share of the conference championship with Conway and Bryant and reaching the postseason.

Conway beat Little Rock Catholic on Thursday and Bryant’s game at Little Rock Central was rescheduled to Friday night because of a blown transformer.

“They’ve done a great job,” Malham said of his players’ earning a share of the championship. “Everything now is bonus anyway. There’s 12 teams and one is going to be happy when it’s all said and done. It could be us if we can put it together.”

The Panthers, with a brisk wind at their backs, held Russellville to negative one yard in the first quarter while scoring on all three of their possessions.

Each of Will Hidalgo’s first three, wind-blown kickoffs sailed into the end zone for a touchback, and the Cabot defense kept Russellville from getting much farther than the 20, forcing the Cyclones to punt and giving the offense starting field position from the Russellville 24, 47 and 22.

James Haley scored the Panthers’ first touchdown on an 18-yard run, capping a two-play drive with 10:52 left in the quarter.

The next score came on Craig’s three-yard keeper with 5:43 to go in the period and Haley capped another two-play possession when he slipped outside the right tackle and ran 20 yards for the 21-0 lead with 3:47 left in the first.

The quarter expired with Cabot at the Russellville 47, and the Panthers’ fortunes almost immediately took a bad turn.

The Panthers were forced to punt for the first time and the low snap got away from Max Carroll and he was dropped for a 15-yard loss as the Cyclones took over.

The defense held again after Russellville drove to the Cabot 12 as Greg Phelps and Mason James broke up Jordan Barrett’s fourth-down pass into the end zone.

Cabot marched to the Russellville 8, with Craig gaining eight yards on a keeper, but he was injured on the play and stayed down outside the right sideline until he was helped off favoring his right knee.

Brandon Boatright replaced Craig and had trouble hanging on to his first two snaps, and Bryson Morris replaced him during the next possession after Cabot reached the Russellville 46.

That drive stalled too, but Carroll got off a deep punt into the wind, forcing the Cyclones to start from their 15, and the half ended on an incompletion with the Panthers leading 21-0.

“I’m just going to enjoy this, at least I get an extra day since it’s Thursday to enjoy this,” Malham said. “And then hopefully we can get ready to compete next week when Heritage comes in here.”