Tuesday, November 29, 2011

SPORTS >> EPC wants revenge at Carlisle

Leader sports editor

When Carlisle lines up to face its semifinal opponent Friday in the class 2A state playoffs, it won’t just be against a top-notch team. The Bison will face a top-notch team bent on revenge. East Poinsett County hasn’t tasted defeat since losing in overtime in last year’s playoffs on the same field they will meet on this Friday.

The Bison won that second-round showdown in overtime, 34-28. EPC has since reeled off 11 wins this season and has scarcely been tested. The Warriors’ closest regular-season game was a 34-14 win over McCrory in week two. Their average margin of victory in the regular season was 43.6 points per game.

They hammered Carlisle’s conference rival Des Arc 35-6 in their first playoff game. They were taken to the wire last week in a 12-6 win against perennial powerhouse Bearden.

EPC returns 10 starters on each side of the ball from last year’s team, including Arkansas Razorback commitment A.J. Turner. But Turner is far from the team’s only weapon.

“Turner is the big one but they’ve got tons of weapons,” Carlisle coach Scott Waymire said. “Turner is a great player offensively and a great defender. But the young man Darrius Barnes averages 15 yards per carry. He’s very dangerous. One of the most dangerous offensive players we’ve seen all year.”

Through the regular season, Barnes actually averaged a shade more than 17 yards per carry from the quarterback position. He has 1,400 yards on the ground and 23 rushing touchdowns this season.

The Warriors have a dynamic duo of tailbacks that alternate lining up next to Barnes in EPC’s spread offense. Junior James Sturdivant and sophomore Trevor McDaniel, along with fullback Dray Young, have combined for 1,440 yards and 25 touchdowns.

Turner, who is 6 feet 3 inches, 200 pounds and runs the 40-yard dash is 4.5 seconds, is one of only three Warriors that play on both sides of the ball.

He projects as an outside linebacker for the Razorbacks. He plays inside linebacker and wide receiver for the Warriors. He has recorded 192 tackles this season, breaking the school record of 177 he set last season.

“Without a doubt he’s our backbone,” EPC coach Brian Weathers said. “He’s our energizer. He had 17 solo stops last week and he had 30 tackles against McCrory. On offense he’s a weapon because he’s very difficult to guard one-on-one. Most people have to spy a safety over him and that helps free up the other guys.”

The home team will have the advantage in experience in big games. Carlisle has had numerous semifinal appearances in school history. This is the first time East Poinsett County has ever been this deep the playoffs. It’s also the first time the team has ever been undefeated this late in the year. Having a chance to avenge their last loss may add extra meaning to the Warriors first semifinal appearance.

“To me it doesn’t necessarily add anything to the game, but for the kids it might,” Weathers said. “I know this all started for us last year after the Carlisle game. We made a commitment to dedicate ourselves to the weight room because of Carlisle. They showed us we have to get a lot stronger and more physical to get to the next level. The kids really did commit to that and the whole thing started in that locker room after the Carlisle game.”

The Bison don’t have the kind of size they had last year. The team lost all but one of the starting behemoths on the 2010 offensive line, but Weathers isn’t taking anything for granted.

“They’re still as big and physical as just about anybody else,” Weathers said. “They may not be as big as last year, but they’re still big for this level and very physical. I don’t see much of a weakness there at all, even if they’re not all returning starters.”

Carlisle’s major task is stopping an offense that has averaged 48.1 points per game, 53.6 in the regular season.

Carlisle saw a speedy team against Danville and a powerful team against Gurdon in the playoffs. EPC has both.

“They have a great combination,” Waymire said. “They’re very similar to Danville in that you can’t focus on one person. The main thing we have to do is be sure tacklers. We have to gang tackle and wrap up. Those guys can make people look silly if you don’t wrap up and hang on. So that’s the No. 1 thing. We also can’t give up the big play. Last year we gave up the big play several times and that’s what kept them in it and made it close.”

Offensively the task is clear. Better execution than last week is a must.

“I didn’t think we did a very good job offensively against Gurdon,” Waymire said. “They beat us off the ball a lot of times and gave us fits. We have to play perfect football. We expect them to play perfect football. We can’t miss assignments. We missed assignments last week. We have to cut those things out if we want to keep playing.”

Win or lose, it’s the Carlisle seniors’ final home game. A loss ends the season and a win means a trip to War Memorial Stadium for the championship game.

Waymire hopes for a huge crowd this Friday.

“We have a big senior class and it’s the last time they’ll be playing under the lights at Fred Hardke Field,” Waymire said. “This is a great group of kids that has done a tremendous job of representing us and this community. I hope everybody that can will come out and support these kids in their last game here.”