Tuesday, October 04, 2011

SPORTS >> Title chance on the line

Leader sportswriter

The conference implications increase significantly this week when the Beebe Badgers travel to Wynne to face the Yellowjackets in a battle of unbeaten 5A-East Conference teams.

The Yellowjackets (4-1, 2-0) put themselves in the early running for an East title with victories over Blytheville and Greene County Tech. Their only loss came in week one against Marion in a 30-28 decision.

The Badgers (4-1, 2-0) stayed unbeaten in conference play despite a late struggle against a young, talented Forrest City team last Friday. It took a late interception and touchdown return by Dakota Lovston to put the game out of grasp for the Mustangs – one of three costly turnovers by Forrest City in the second half.

“It’s a big ball game, that’s for sure,” Beebe head coach John Shannon said of the road trip to Wynne. “We talked about it to the kids Saturday, that every game from here on out gets bigger and bigger.”

Wynne is enjoying resurgence this season under new coach Chris Hill. The Yellowjackets have not had a winning season since longtime coach Don Campbell retired in 2006, though they did manage to make the Class 5A playoffs in 2008 despite winning just three games. Hill has taken the Yellowjackets away from their traditional power-running game into a Spread program that utilizes screen passes and quick hits.

“They run the Spread now; they want to get their backs in open space,” Shannon said. “They still run the ball a lot. I’d say they still run the ball about 60 percent of the time. They’ve got two running backs that look pretty good.

“Passing is always a concern, but our number-one goal is to stop the run. We feel like you don’t have a chance of winning if you can’t stop the run.”

As the season progresses, the Badgers continue to grow deeper in their running game. Halfbacks Jay Holdway and Michael Kirby came into the 2011 season as already proven backs, and the progress of Rory Moore and Jeremy Van Winkle has allowed Beebe to dispense touches all around.

Add the scrambling and option abilities of quarterback Dustin Stallnacker and the continuing evolution of sophomore fullback Eric Thorn, who continues to developing into a true workhorse for the Badgers, and it comes to an offense that can control the tempo and clock along with an offensive line that has performed well all season.

“I thought our offensive line did a good job,” Shannon said. “(Forrest City) had nine people in the box, and we were still able to open some good holes. Kirby had a good game his first time back – Van Winkle and Rory Moore have done a good job, and Thorn still had a good night even though they were geared to stop the off-tackle run.”

Van Winkle has emerged as a key player on both sides of the ball for Beebe as a running back and defensive back.

“He’s really stepped up this year,” Shannon said. “He’s played well on both sides; it’s been a good surprise for us. He had some good runs, even a touchdown run, and he had some monster hits on defense.”

Defensively, the Badgers have benefited from a hungry group of underclassmen.

“We had five sophomores on the field at times last week,” Shannon said. “Some of the young kids have really come on strong. It’s been a good thing to see.

With only Beebe, Wynne and Batesville left as unbeaten teams in the 5A-East Conference after two weeks of league play, Friday night’s game already has huge implications.

“We’re just going to take it one game at a time,” Shannon said. “Whoever wins will definitely have a big upper hand in conference. Everybody will be chasing the winner for the rest of the year.”