Tuesday, September 06, 2011

SPORTS >> Badgers, Rabbits meet again

Leader sportswriter

Although not a conference game, the familiar week two rivalry game between Lonoke and Beebe usually sets the tone for both teams’ seasons. The close proximity and similar talent always seems to make for a good matchup, and gives the two programs a good gauge of how prepared or unprepared they are to play in big games.

The Badgers and Jackrabbits are both coming off opening-week losses, but will be looking to turn their fortunes around this week when they meet at James B. Abraham Stadium in Lonoke for a 7 p.m. kickoff Friday.

It’s a rivalry game that dates back almost 50 years and has even included Beebe head coach John Shannon, who took part back in the early 1980s as a Badger lineman.

“Beebe and Lonoke have been playing for a very long time,” Shannon said. “They’ve been playing back before I even played. It means a lot to both communities. It’s a big game, there’s always a big crowd, but it’s a friendly rivalry. I don’t ever remember anything mischievous happening.

“The coaches all get along. We talk throughout the summer. It’s just one of those old-fashioned rivalries where everyone’s excited.”

Lonoke coach Doug Bost shares the friendly rivalry sentiment wnth Shannon.

“It’s always a big game when we play,” Bost said. “We’re only 20-something miles apart, so there’s always a good crowd on hand. It’s always tough when we play Beebe.” And there were plenty of positives for Lonoke to take away from last week’s loss to Star City.

Bost was pleased with the offensive line, which helped the Jackrabbits pick up 185 yards on the ground.

Junior quarterback D.J. Burton also had a strong night passing with over 130 yards through the air, going 11 for 15.

But penalties were a big setback. Lonoke was penalized for 85 yards.

Defensively, the Jackrabbits experienced growing pains with their young secondary against Star City. But wnth run-oriented Beebe on tap this week, the backfield will not be under the gun quite as much.

“Coming into this year, we knew our secondary would need a lot of work,” Bost said. “Theygave up a long pass for a touchdown just before halftime, and that hurt us. But it’s something we’ve worked on this week.”

It’s not speed that concerns Bost the most when it comes to Beebe, it’s the size up front.

“Hopefully this is the biggest offensive line we see all year,” Bost said. “They’re returning six of their seven starters – they return a lot of size. They want to run the ball on you, unless they get into third and long, and then they might try and pass it on you.

“We’re going to have to be able to read the backs and know what gap we have. They also run the option some, so we’ll have to know who has the quarterback, and who has the pitch man.”

Beebe’s 41-14 loss to Greenbrier last week looks better on paper than it did on the scoreboard. The Badgers stopped the Panthers’ stout senior quarterback Neal Burcham and the Greenbrier offense six times, but costly offensive and special teams turnovers were costly and gave the Panthers a short field.

“Offensively, we just can’t beat ourselves,” Shannon said. “We turned the ball over three times in crucial situations. Those fumbles hurt us and put our defense in bad situations.”

It was a departure from a Badgers offense that looked confident and composed during their scrimmage at Harding Academy a week earlier. Beebe went mistake free for the most part during four long scoring drives against Harding Academy and Trumann. But the first Friday night saw the Badgers make plenty of mistakes on the offensive side.

“We really didn’t have any problems during our scrimmage, so I was kind of surprised,” Shannon said. “It’s a veteran group, we had a scrimmage under our belts, so I was disappointed with our offense. We told them Saturday that the defense played well enough to win the game. We’re pushing them hard this week, and hopefully we’ll be ready come game time.”

Bost’s concern over Beebe’s offensive line is similar to Shannon’s worries when it comes to the Lonoke interior.

“They talk about our offensive line, but they’ve got their share of big guys up there,” Shannon said. “Breaking them down on film, it looks like they like to pass about 60 percent of the time and run it about 40 percent of the time. Defensively, we want to play good angles and make good tackles.”

With similar size and experience, Bost hopes the home-field advantage will help his Jackrabbits prevail.

“Any time you can play at home and have a big crowd cheering behind you, it’s exciting,” Bost said. “They’re looking forward to their first home game.”