Tuesday, November 01, 2011

SPORTS >> Lonoke, Clinton battling for third

Leader sportswriter

The Lonoke Jackrabbits could play at home again this season.

Last Friday’s 38-20 loss to Stuttgart ended their chances of claiming a No. 2 seed in the 2-4A Conference, but with five teams from each conference in Class 4A headed to the playoffs next week, and three of them at home, the road trip to Clinton this Friday to face the Yellowjackets (6-3, 4-2) will determine whether or not the ’Rabbits (3-6, 3-3) will step onto the grass at James B. Abraham Field in game conditions again this year.

Though their overall records vary, the two teams have had similar conference runs, including losses to Heber Springs and Stuttgart, and victories over Cave City, Newport and Marianna-Lee. The only difference through six weeks is that Clinton was able to hold off a much-improved Southside Batesville team to win 19-14 in week five, while the Jackrabbits fell to the Southerners the following week, 20-19.

And the similarities don’t end there. The Yellowjackets, like many of their 2-4A counterparts, are quarterback strong with talented senior signal caller Parker Parish. Parish is yet another of many dual-threat quarterbacks in the league, leading the ’Jackets out of the wing-T offense, with some spread pass offense thrown in.

“They spread it out to pass it some,” Lonoke coach Doug Bost said. “But it’s mostly so he can run it.”

Lonoke has its own good balance behind center with junior quarterback D.J. Burton, who has thrown for close to 1,100 yards and has rushed for just over 800 more.

Burton was not projected to be the starter this year until late spring, but has grown and adapted quickly in his role.

“He’s been more vocal,” Bost said. “He understands the offense. We’ve called on him a lot, and he has come through.”

For all of his strengths, turnovers have been one weakness for Burton, who gave away two fumbles to a tough Stuttgart defense last week. Both of those turnovers led to Ricebird touchdowns.

“We knew going in they had one of the toughest defenses we would see all year,” Bost said. “Their front six is just great. The first half, we have two turnovers, and both of those led to scores. We lose by 18, and there’s 14 of it right there.”

When it comes to stopping Parish and the Yellowjacket offense this week, Bost said the performance of the defensive line will be key in shutting down the wing-T attack. The defense as a whole has also been subject to the ups and downs of the season, giving up just over 31 points per game.

The offense got a boost last week with the return of tackle Justin Carpenter.

His imposing 6-foot-4, 290-pound frame made a difference in Lonoke’s running game against Stuttgart’s defense, which at one point in the season was allowing just nine points a game on average.

“We’ve just had a lot of different circumstances,” Bost said. “We’ve had to juggle our offensive line. I don’t think we’ve had the same group up there for two-straight weeks the whole year, and that’s tough to do. But they’ve won games and put themselves in position.”