Wednesday, August 31, 2011

SPORTS >> Mistakes hurt Jackrabbits, Bulldogs get win

Leader sports editor

Lonoke’s first offensive play was a turnover. It’s last offensive play was a turnover. In between there were nine penalties for 45 yards in losses, and it was all enough to help Star City overcome the Jackrabbits 21-7 Monday in the opening game of the 2011 football season at the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

There were bright spots for Lonoke on offense and defense, and plenty on which to build once it eliminates the kind of mistakes that were made against the Bulldogs.

Part of the problem for Lonoke, possibly a major part, was that it was playing in its first game-type action in the regular-season opener. While most teams played a scrimmage game against another team or two, Lonoke’s scheduled scrimmage against Maumelle a week earlier was called off after just 15 minutes because of lightning in the area.

“I think that hurt us,” Lonoke coach Doug Bost said. “We scrimmaged for 15 minutes and really didn’t have a scrimmage. Star City got to scrimmage for two hours, had a good scrimmage and got to really work on things, see what needed work and got to go back and practice those things. We didn’t get anything like that, and I think it showed tonight in some of the mistakes we made.”

Star City took a 14-0 lead into halftime after scoring on its first and last possessions of the half. The Bulldogs capped each drive with 35-yard scoring plays. The opening drive took only four plays to go 75 yards, and quickly highlighted Star City’s numerous weapons. Four different players got the ball on the drive. Junior Lavonte Gardner got the ball first and went 17 yards on the first play of the game.

Two plays later, receiver and sometimes-quarterback DaVondrick Shelton caught a 13-yard pass. Quarterback Austin White carried for a short gain before handing off to Reshod Davis, who scampered 35 yards for the score. The extra point was no good, giving Star City a 6-0 lead with 10:28 left in the first quarter.

On Lonoke’s first play, junior running back Eric Williams ran 10 yards up the gut, but lost the ball, giving it back to the Bulldogs at the Lonoke 45-yard line.

The defense stopped Star City at the seven-yard line, where it missed a 24-yard field-goal attempt.

Defenses took control for most of the half, until Star City drove 85 yards in 3:01 to make it 14-0 with 1:13 left in the half.

The Bulldogs suddenly came out throwing in that drive. Seven of its 10 plays were passes, and five were complete, including a 35-yard connection from White to Shelton, who was covered well by two Lonoke defenders.

Lonoke ended the half with a 36-yard run by Williams. Lonoke picked up in the second half where it left off in the first, moving the ball with ease.

The Jackrabbits went 69 yards in 10 plays to start the second half, mixing the pass and run and keeping the Bulldogs off balance on defense.

Lonoke finished the drive when quarterback D.J. Burton threw a jump ball pass to the end zone, where Lonoke receiver Blake Mack out-jumped Star City’s defender to pull down the 12-yard touchdown pass.

After that, it became a defensive struggle again, with neither team able to do much offensively.

Star City was able to do nothing over its next two drives. The Lonoke defense gave up 10 total yards in the second half until Star City began its final scoring drive with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter.

Star City netted five yards in each of its previous two second-half drives, but was able to move 80 yards in eight plays to make it 21-7 with 4:27 remaining in the game.

A little bad luck for Lonoke helped Star City get into the end zone. The Bulldogs had first and goal at the 1-yard line, but was stuffed for no gain on first and second down. The Jackrabbits won the initial push on third down, but White fumbled the snap on the quarterback sneak. By the time he picked it up, he was able to find a hole in the defense and score.

Lonoke got it back and drove the length of the field for a first down at the Star City 8-yard line with plenty of time remaining. But on second down, a bad snap led to a loose ball, which Star City recovered with 2:34 left in the game.

One first down later, and the Bulldogs went to a victory formation to run out the clock and seal the win.

One of the bright spots for Lonoke was the play of Burton in the passing game. Burton was a question mark going into the season, having never played significant minutes at quarterback. Against Star City, he completed 10 of 14 pass attempts for 115 yards, with one touchdown and no interceptions.

“He did pretty well,” Bost said of Burton. “We were a little concerned about him being a little nervous. But I didn’t see it out there. I didn’t see any nerves. He looked fine.”

Star City gained 314 total yards with 194 rushing and 120 through the air. Lonoke gained 173 yards rushing to go with Burton’s 115 passing to finish with 288 total yards.

Gardner led all players with 147 total yards, including 114 on the ground. Williams led all rushers with 119 yards on 13 carries.

Lonoke will get plenty of practice time to work on the areas of concern before it plays longtime rival Beebe at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 9 at Beebe.