Tuesday, September 27, 2011

SPORTS >> Badgers’ defense must get focused

Leader sportswriter

Favor is in the corner of the Beebe Badgers again this week with winless Forrest City coming to visit A.S. “Bro” Erwin Stadium this Friday for the second week of the 5A-East Conference schedule.

The Badgers (3-1, 1-0) are riding high from their third-straight victory of the season after downing Paragould in a 56-24 blowout last Friday.

Though the Rams were without a win in 2011, it was the first big road trip for the Badgers, who came through in decisive fashion with a number of big runs for touchdowns.

But the 24 points given up by Beebe’s defense is a concern for head coach John Shannon.

“It was just a matter of kids not taking care of responsibilities,” Shannon said. “With everything that happened, we were going out and not executing. The kids have been working hard all year. Sometimes, you just have those letdowns.”

But Beebe’s offense was far from a letdown against Paragould with three backs posting triple-digit running stats, including senior quarterback Dustin Stallnacker.

Stallnacker has been the Badgers’ unaccountable X-factor in an offense that is starting to enjoy more depth than any other Beebe team in many years.

Senior halfback Jay Holdway has been the dependable workhorse for the Badgers through the first month, but sophomore fullback Eric Thorn had a breakthrough game against the Rams with over 170 yards rushing and three touchdowns.

Junior halfback Michael Kirby has been out for the last two weeks with an injured shoulder, but should be back in time to help against Forrest City. That pair along with subs Rory Moore and Jeremy Van Winkle give Shannon and the coaching staff room to explore multiple looks in the backfield of their Dead T offense.

“I feel good about our backs,” Shannon said. “We seem to get better and better each and every week.”

Shannon has also been pleased with the work up front from his experienced offensive line. Right guard Lucas Ratz graded out the highest against Paragould at 94 percent.

“The offensive line had their best game of the year,” Shannon said. “The entire line did a great job.”

When it comes to the Mustangs (0-3-1, 0-1), who will be trying to recover from a conference-opening 28-14 loss at the hands of Greene County Tech last Friday, Shannon is most weary of their team speed, an obstacle they overcame in a come-from-behind victory against local non-conference rival Lonoke in Week two.

Forrest City works out of a Pro-I type formation, and also utilizes the trendy Spread passing formation. The Mustangs have a mix of experienced players and young, unproven linemen.

“We’re nervous about them just because they’re hard nosed with some good team speed,” Shannon said. “It’s hard for us to show our defense that kind of speed in practice, just because we don’t have any kids who are that fast.

“I think the battle on the line will be the deciding factor. I think if we can stop them on big plays and contain their speed, we’ll be alright. If they’re able to mix it up on us and get some big gains, we’re going to be in trouble.”