Wednesday, August 29, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Badgers, Panthers keep rivalry alive

Leader sportswriter

Many schools have seen their season-opening opponents change over the past two or three years, but Friday’s game between Beebe and host Greenbrier continues a Week 1 series that dates back 12 years in a rivalry that spans nearly four decades. The Badgers and Panthers now represent 5A programs, with Beebe in the 5A East Conference and Greenbrier in the 5A West, but there was a time when both were tiny 2A schools, and off-and-on league rivals.

There will be little reminiscing of the past when Beebe descends on Don Jones Stadium in an attempt to avenge last year’s 41-20 loss. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

“They looked pretty solid in their scrimmage,” Badgers coach John Shannon said. “The defense runs to the ball really well. Their quarterback looks like he wants to run more than he does throw the ball, so we have to be ready for both. With the Burcham kid, he never really was much of a runner, so now having to deal with a dual-threat quarterback makes it tougher on us.”

The Badgers had their shining moments and tough moments in last week’s scrimmage against Harding Academy.

The defense flew to the ball on some occasions and broke up several good pass attempts, only to allow Harding Aca-demy to throw right over the top of them a few plays later for big gains. The offense fumbled a few more times than Shannon wanted to see, but a week of practice to correct those issues should have the Badgers in game shape for Friday.

“It’s like I was saying that night that it was never as bad or never as good as what you think,” Shannon said. “The little things – things you would think we had worked out by now, but we were able to go back on Thursday and Friday and Saturday and work on it. We feel better about it.”

It takes about an hour to reach Greenbrier from Beebe, but with long-distance East conference road games at Blytheville and Forrest City on tap for the 2012 season, Shannon views it as an early opportunity to get his team acclimated to long bus rides on important game nights.

“Anytime you’re on the road, it’s tough,” Shannon said. “And I think the older I get, the more I hate having to get on that bus on Fridays. But you have to get on that bus, and you have to try and stay focused. That should help us later on when we go to Blytheville and Forrest City.

“Hopefully this will help us in teaching the kids how to stay focused.”

Beebe mixed it up at the quarterback spot during the scrimmage, trying as many as four different players. But when the season officially kicks off Friday, original projected starter, sophomore Aaron Nunez, will be the starting signal caller. Nunez has no varsity experience heading into Friday’s opener, but his quick feet and early signs of leadership abilities have Shannon confident in the youngster.

“He’s going to be our quarterback,” Shannon said. “We’ve made that decision, and we’re going to stick with that. We know there’s some unknown there with him being inexperienced, but we feel like there’s a lot more upside with him as far as being an athlete.”

The only question that remains – are the Badgers ready after a hot summer coming off a second-round playoff appearance last year?

“I think so,” Shannon said. “I think that was part of the problem the other night is that we were kind of in a lull; there wasn’t any fire in their bellies. But the way they came back to practice on Thursday, I think it was a wake-up call. I know they’re tired, and it’s been a long three weeks, but you have to fight through the adversity to get to the good stuff.”