Tuesday, September 13, 2011

SPORTS >> Mirror images face off in Beebe

Leader sportswriter

East meets West when Vilonia visits A.S. “Bro” Erwin Stadium on Friday to face Beebe. The Badgers of the 5A-East Conference picked up their first victory of the season last Friday with a dramatic performance over Lonoke in which they erased a 21-point deficit through the last three quarters.

The Eagles of the 5A-West Conference suffered their first loss last week against Wynne, another 5A-East program. They opened their season with a 45-14 blowout over Sylvan Hills while the Badgers lost to Greenbrier.

Hwy. 64 is not the only common bond between the two programs. Coach Jim Stanley of Vilonia and Beebe coach John Shannon share common philosophies of ball control and run-oriented offenses, and both have strict work ethics.

“We’re pretty much equally matched from that standpoint,” Shannon said. “I think it’s going to come down to who can impose their will on the other one. It’s going to be a battle – which team makes turnovers could be the deciding factor.”

Vilonia’s reputation as a strong running team precedes them with senior running back James Sax. But talented sophomore Houston Cotton has also looked impressive in the first two games. The Eagles also have a bruising fullback in Jacob Weidmier (5-10, 240) for short-yardage situations.

Sax was a difference maker last year during Vilonia’s 41-14 victory over Beebe.

“He’s pretty doggone good,” Shannon said. “He’s gotten better every year. Last year, they moved him to fullback and let him be a big bruiser, and this year, they’ve got him back at the wingback spot. So if we’re not able to get good angles on him, we could be in trouble.”

Beebe has had plenty to be excited about with its own running game. Last week, quarterback Dustin Stallnacker and halfback Jay Holdway combined for nearly 300 yards rushing and a pair of scores against Lonoke. The Badgers have also shown good depth in the backfield with sophomore fullback Eric Thorn and halfbacks Jeremy Van Winkle and Rory Moore.

But one question mark for the Badgers is junior halfback Michael Kirby, who went out of the Lonoke game before halftime with an injury to his left shoulder. X-rays over the weekend were unclear – one indicated a broken collarbone, but another appeared to show a simple shoulder sprain.

“That’s the best case scenario,” Shannon said. “Right now, he’s out. He’s going to the doctor (on Monday), and we’ll go from there. Whatever they tell us will determine how long he will be out.”

Though he would prefer not to fall behind Vilonia on the scoreboard at all come Friday, Shannon now has the confidence that his team can come back from deficits after last week’s comeback at Lonoke.

“I felt like our kids didn’t quit,” Shannon said. “We told them at halftime to keep plugging away, and our kids did that.”