Saturday, September 22, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Jackrabbits yield late to Panthers

Leader sportswriter

The second half belonged to Heber Springs as the Panthers took advantage of Lonoke turnovers and overcame the defensive struggle of the first half for a 21-6 victory over the Jackrabbits at James B. Abraham Stadium on Friday in the 4A-2 Conference opener for both teams.

Lonoke (2-2, 0-1) got its only score of the game with 10:51 left to play when junior reserve quarterback Nick Watson found Blake Mack for a 51-yard touchdown pass that cut the Panthers’ lead to 14-6, but Heber Springs (2-1, 1-0) quickly answered with one last scoring drive that went 80 yards in just four plays with Chandler Marquardt bulling his way in for the final yard with 5:42 remaining.

Watson gave the Jackrabbits a boost early in the fourth quarter after taking over for starting junior quarterback Grant Dewey, who was intercepted three times by the Heber Springs secondary, but Watson also fell victim to the Panther defensive backs with a late interception.

The first half ended with no score, as both teams moved the ball at times, only to turn it over or lose field position to untimely penalties.

“I really felt like we shot ourselves in the foot,” Heber Springs coach Steve Janski said. “We knew it was going to be a war. We knew coach Bost and Lonoke was going to be a tough game, especially with it being here, but we shot ourselves in the foot. Dropped pass in the end zone for a touchdown, we’re driving the ball and turn it over again on a drive, and then we had penalties back us up.

“We regrouped, and we really battled it out, and I really owe it to our summer conditioning.”

Heber Springs finally put points on the scoreboard on its first drive of the second half. The Panthers went 67 yards in nine plays, highlighted by a 51-yard pass from senior quarterback Michael Kramer to Clint Ligon that set Heber Springs up with a first and goal from the Jackrabbit 8-yard line.

Kramer called his own number on third down from a yard out and punched it in for the touchdown with 6:18 remaining in the third quarter. Dillon Moore added the extra point to give Heber Springs a 7 -0 lead.

Lonoke gave the ball back in one play when Dewey threw his third interception of the game, this one to Panthers defensive back Eddie Irvin, who returned it inside the Jackrabbit 20, but an illegal-block penalty backed it up to the 35-yard line.

The Lonoke defense held but a good punt by the Panthers backed the host team up at its own 2-yard line. The Jackrabbits moved the markers once out to the 17, but a seven-yard loss for junior D.J. Burton and a sack on Dewey for a loss of seven more yards penned punter Blake Gooden deep in the end zone to kick the ball back to the Panthers.

That set up Heber Springs with great field position at the Lonoke 23-yard line, and from there, it took four plays for the Panthers to get in, including three-straight rushes by Gunner Nelson. The last was a three-yard run to score with 10:23 remaining to put the Panthers up 14-0.

“The defense did a good job,” Lonoke coach Doug Bost said. “They held them out down there in the red zone three or four times. Four turnovers on offense – that’s going to get you beat. That’s what hurt us. They pretty much just rushed three like we thought they would, and their three were whipping our five way too much tonight.”

Lonoke’s first drive ended on downs as the Panthers took over at their own 39-yard line. That series ended with a punt, which penned the Jackrabbits deep in their own territory at the 10-yard line.

Penalties for a false start and block in the back pushed Lonoke back further until Dewey connected with Blake Mack for a 32-yard pass play to set the Jackrabbits up with a new set of downs at the 37. That was as far as the offense went, however, as Ligon pulled down an interception intended for D.J. Burton at the Heber Springs’ 44-yard line. Dewey’s pass found Burton, but the ball bounced off the senior receiver’s hands to put Ligon in position for the easy pick.

The Panthers returned the favor on their ensuing drive when Kramer fumbled the snap and junior lineman Bubba Lewis fell on the ball for Lonoke. But it was three and out for the Jackrabbits, with a Blake Gooden punt sending Heber Springs back to its own 27-yard line at the 11:27 mark of the second quarter.

Kramer found Ligon on third down for a 56-yard pass play to move the Panthers all the way to the Lonoke 16-yard line, but the Jackrabbits stood up on defense and took advantage of an illegal-shift penalty to hold them at bay. Heber Springs went for it on fourth down but came up short, as both teams traded possessions four more times before the half.

Lonoke finished with 178 yards offense, led by 65 yards on 15 carries by senior tailback Eric Williams. Mack had four catches for 77 yards and a touchdown. Dewey was 4 for 10 for 35 yards and three interceptions while Watson was 4 for 8 for 79 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

For Heber Springs, Kramer was 8 of 17 passing for 143 yards, five of those tosses went to Ligon for 125 yards. Marquardt had nine carries for 105 yards and a touchdown, as the Panther racked up 349 yards offense.

Lonoke will go on the road to Newport next week while Heber Springs hosts Stuttgart.