Tuesday, November 08, 2011

SPORTS >> Chapel uses commitee of ball carriers

Leader sportswriter

Running backs by committee will be the theme for both teams as Beebe travels to Watson Chapel for the first round of the Class 5A state playoffs Friday.

The Badgers (6-4) wrapped up their 5A-East Conference schedule at home last week with a disappointing 28-14 loss to outright champion Batesville on senior night last Friday, earning the No. 3 seed.

The Wildcats (6-4) put a damper on Sylvan Hills’ last game of the season with a 51-21 victory over the Bears to help secure the No. 2 seed out of the 5A Southeast Conference.

Senior halfback Jay Holdway has led Beebe’s rushing attack this season, and has plenty of support behind him. Junior Michael Kirby joins Holdway as a starting halfback with sophomore fullback Eric Thorn in between. The added depth from halfbacks Rory Moore and Jeremy Van Winkle gives coach John Shannon several options.

“I think Beebe is a tremendously polished football team on both sides of the ball,” Watson Chapel coach George Shelton said. “They’re hard-nosed between the tackles, and their offensive line really wears on defenses. Their running backs are outstanding, and their quarterback is a polished ball handler – very impressive.”

The Wildcats also have depth at running back, as Shelton said he normally uses five to six different players in the backfield on Fridays.

Holdway led the way again against Batesville, and Shannon also commended senior quarterback Dustin Stallnaker, who led one of Beebe’s biggest passing attacks in recent memory on Friday.

Defensively, it was senior Bradley Gann leading the way again this season with 12 tackles against the Pioneers.

“He’s been solid for us all year,” Shannon said. “He’s been leader for us also. It started back in January, he established himself as a leader then. And now, he just doesn’t do it with his mouth, he also does it with his actions.”

Watson Chapel essentially took Beebe’s place in the 5A-Southeast Conference during the Arkansas Activities Association’s classification shuffle last year. Beebe moved to the East with the likes of Batesville, Wynne and Forrest City, while the Wildcats joined Monticello, Sylvan Hills and Mills University Studies in the Southeast Conference..

The Wildcats have been successful under Shelton’s watch with three straight trips to the state semifinals, including an unbeaten conference run last year. Though rebuilding somewhat in 2011, Watson Chapel still easily made its way into the postseason with conference wins over Crossett, Monticello, North Pulaski, Mills and Sylvan Hills.

“They look like they’re pretty athletic,” Shannon said. “They’re a hard-nosed team – they like to run the wishbone. We match up pretty well. I think it will come down to who plays the most physical on Friday.”

Shannon said the teams are close on paper, with Watson Chapel holding perhaps more athleticism while the Badgers could have a little bit of a size advantage.

“Hard nosed” was a term used by both coaches when discussing the upcoming game. Shannon, who was a longtime assistant under Mike Malham at Cabot, and Shelton, who came up under another local legend in longtime Pine Bluff coach Marion Glover, are both proponents of the old-school style of between-the-tackles football.

“I guess their coach trained under coach Malham up at Cabot, and you can definitely see the similarities,” Shelton said of Shannon. “They play old-fashioned, smash-mouth football. And that’s what I like to see – good, old-fashioned American football, and it’s good to see.”