Wednesday, September 21, 2011

SPORTS >> Badgers can't take Rams lightly

Leader sportswriter

It’s the first big road trip for the Beebe Badgers this week as they prepare to open the 5A-East Conference schedule at Paragould on Friday. But given the Rams’ early struggles, it could be any easy road trip.

The Rams (0-3) failed to establish any momentum in non-conference losses to Valley View, Pocahontas and Trumann. The Blazers started the year with a 38-7 blowout over Paragould, while the Redskins trounced the Rams 42-26 week two before the Wildcats won big 53-32 last Friday.

The Trumann game could be a good measuring stick of what’s in store for the Rams this week. Beebe dominated the Wildcats in their preseason scrimmage game at Harding Academy.

“It’s the first conference game – now they start counting for real,” Badgers coach John Shannon said. “We want to play our best. We would hate to get to the end of the season and be fighting for a playoff spot, and it all comes down to a game we could have won but didn’t. From here on out, each game will just be bigger and bigger.”

The Badgers passed a huge test last week with a close 27-24 victory over 5A-West contender Vilonia. The Eagles had a chance to score in the final seconds inside Beebe’s 3-yard line, but a goal-line stand by the Badgers defense helped them defeat their local non-conference rival for the first time since 2007.

“The way we won, it was big– it was another close ballgame,” Shannon said. “Vilonia has been a thorn in our side, so it was nice to get that monkey off our backs. We talked to them on Saturday about how that could help us down the road.”

There were plenty of strong performances in the victory over Vilonia from the usual suspects, and perhaps the unexpected in the case of senior tailback Rory Moore. Moore has been a solid contributor for the Badgers early on, but with classmate and fellow tailback Jay Holdway carrying much of the load in Beebe’s first two games, Moore’s 81-yard, team-leading performance last week gave indication that the Badgers could have some of the best skill depth in the East Conference.

Senior quarterback Dustin Stallnacker has also grown more comfortable in his role as a first-year starter. Stallnacker has been very effective on the ground since the start of the season, and add the fact that he threw for two touchdown passes last week against Vilonia, it adds another dimension for opponents to defend.

“We’ve had guys stepping up every week,” Shannon said. “We’ve got several guys carrying the ball well. Anytime you can be balanced like that, it makes it harder for people to defend against you.”

Defensively, Shannon said senior linebacker Bradley Gann played the game of his life against a strong Vilonia rushing attack that included Division-I college prospect James Sax.

The Rams may be down on their luck, but Shannon is not taking them lightly.

“Their offensive line is bigger than what they were last year,” Shannon said. “They’ve got their quarterback and their fullback back this year. I’d say they’re better than what they were last year.

“It’s our first big road trip. That means we’ve got a lot of things going against us – getting on the road on time, finding a place to eat and then loading back up, just all kinds of distractions.”