Tuesday, September 04, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Hwy. 31 rivalry resumes

Leader sportswriter

There are only 20 miles of road that separates Lonoke and Beebe geographically, but the philosophies of the two teams could not be more different.

Jackrabbits coach Doug Bost will bring his high-flying brand of spread football north to face Badgers coach John Shannon’s ball-control oriented dead T offense this Friday at Bro Erwin Stadium in another installment of a local rivalry that dates back almost 50 years.

Both teams are coming off disappointing losses in their season openers last week. Beebe had a series of ill-timed mistakes that kept it off the scoreboard in a 35-0 shutout loss at Greenbrier while Lonoke lost 44-35 to Star City in a game that had more twists and turns than Hwy. 31 itself.

“Our kids and their kids know each other,” Shannon said. “We’ve been playing each other forever. Some people call it the battle of Hwy. 31 and others call it a couple of other things, and it’s always been a good ballgame – it’s usually a close ballgame.”

The Badgers trailed Greenbrier 14-0 at the end of the first half, but had three trips inside the Panthers’ red zone.

“The biggest thing was just our youth,” Shannon said. “We moved the ball pretty well. I felt pretty good about how we moved the ball, it’s just that every time we got inside their 10-yard line, one of our sophomores would make a crucial mistake.

“The second half, I just think Aaron tried to do too much. Three fumbles, three interceptions – you just can’t give Greenbrier a short field over and over like that, they’re too good a team.”

The biggest potential loss for the Badgers last week was when senior halfback and leading defender Michael Kirby sustained a concussion, which makes his status questionable for this Friday. The margin of defeat to the Panthers last week was a big one, but Shannon said much of the result was due to mistakes that can be corrected with a little more experience for a Badgers team which starts plenty of sophomores.

“35-0 is bad, don’t get me wrong,” Shannon said. “But I thought the game was closer than what the score indicated. We made mistakes, but you have to expect that with four sophomores on offense and four on defense.”

Greenbrier balanced its game between the run and the pass, something the Badgers will face again this week against Lonoke. Jackrabbits junior quarterback Grant Dewey threw for over 250 yards and two touchdowns last week against Star City, while senior tailback Eric Williams used his speed to rack up 100 rushing yards and two more touchdowns.

“Lonoke is very similar; the biggest difference there is they have great athletes,” Shannon said. “Greenbrier had good athletes, but Lonoke has great athletes, and they can make you look silly in a hurry. That’s what happened last year, we couldn’t touch them in the first half, and next thing you know, they’re up by 21 points.”

The Jackrabbits were on pace to take a runaway victory from Beebe early last year, as they jumped out to a three-score lead before the end of the first quarter. But the Badgers adjusted their defensive approach against the speedier ’Rabbits and slowly got back into contention, eventually pulling off the comeback win 36-33. Shannon hopes to get the same end result again this Friday, though he could do without the falling-behind part.

“We have to tackle well,” Shannon said. “Defensively, we can’t let them get out in the open, and we just have to pound the ground game on them and try to wear them down.”