Tuesday, October 25, 2011

SPORTS >> Stuttgart’s defense is obstacle for Lonoke

Leader sportswriter

With half of the teams in the 2-4A Conference sitting at 1-4 with two weeks to go in the regular season, the 3-2 Lonoke Jackrabbits are in good shape to earn a playoff spot.

With Stuttgart and Clinton, both at 4-1 in league play, left to finish out the schedule for the Jackrabbits (3-5 overall), a clean sweep would mean a home playoff game for a Lonoke team that at one point appeared to be in danger of not reaching the postseason at all.

It’s a task that’s easier said than done. The Ricebirds will visit James B. Abraham Field this Friday sporting a defense that allows just 14 points a game, and has posted two shutouts.

“These last few weeks, we’ve carried an attitude of taking things one game at a time,” Lonoke coach Doug Bost said. “So this week, our focus is on Stuttgart, and they are a very good football team.”

The Ricebirds, under first-year coach Billy Elmore, suffered their only league setback at the hands of a dominant Heber Springs team – a team that has all but locked up the 2-4A title with two weeks remaining in the regular season. Stuttgart opened its conference schedule by shutting out Southside Batesville 18-0 before falling to Heber Springs 28-21.

Since then, the Ricebirds have dominated in wins against Newport, Clinton and Cave City.

“It starts with their defense,” Bost said. “At one time, they were allowing just eight or nine points a game. Their front six defensive linemen and their linebackers are the strength of that team, there’s no doubt about it.

“On offense, they started out with a lot of I formation under center. Since then, they’ve added more spread and running the quarterback out of that a lot more. I’ve seen where he’s had some games where he’s ran for 125-150 yards. So it’s still a lot of the running game, there’s just a lot more diversity to it now.”

Another concern will be 5-11, 215-pound running back Keith Hubert, who already has 1,000 yards rushing for the season through eight games.

“They have four or five different receivers that they use, they’re definitely not a one-receiver type team,” Bost said. “But number 33 (Hubert), that’s their go-to guy. He can flat out run over you, and I’ve seen him out run defenses on film.”

Lonoke’s junior running back, Eric Williams, found gaining yards difficult against a Trojan defense that was obviously geared to stop him on the sweep last week. Williams contributed with strong kickoff returns that gave the ’Rabbits good starting field position most of the night, but he was held to less than 50 yards on offense.

But Bost said Williams does not live and die by the sweep play.

“We can line him up back at tailback, and he has good hands to receive,” Bost said. “He knows about three different positions out there on the field, so it makes it good that we can move him around.”

The Jackrabbits came up big last week with their 34-24 victory over Marianna-Lee, a team that had beaten Southside Batesville a week prior. Inconsistency throughout the 2-4A Conference has led to an obvious divide with Southside, Marianna, Newport and Cave City all at 1-4, essentially knocking them out of the playoff picture.

“I think it’s pretty fair to say that,” Bost said of unofficially clinching a playoff berth. “It’s certainly not out of the question to be able to earn a playoff game at home, but we’ll have to win out. Both of those teams have one loss, so if we could win out, we would be in second place.”