Saturday, September 01, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Twinkle town leaves cloud over Lonoke

Leader sportswriter

It was an opening night choked full of big plays and large momentum shifts as Star City out-dueled Lonoke in a 44-35 scrapper at James B. Abraham Stadium on Friday.

The Bulldogs played many of their standouts on both sides, which made endurance a problem in the late going for the visitors. That gave the Jackrabbits multiple chances to close within one score after falling behind 28-7 early in the third quarter.

Lonoke fought its way back with two quick scores later in the third to pull within 28-22, and that set the stage for the back-and-forth shootout that ensued.

Star City had no shortage of playmakers, led by junior quarterback Zack House, who led all rushers with 17 carries for 192 yards and a touchdown on top of his safety duties on defense.

“He was a horse tonight,” Star City coach Blair Brown said. “And he is by far our most experienced defensive player. He had a heck of a ballgame. We were playing a lot of kids both ways. We showed our depth tonight – we had some issues with cramps and injuries. We lost three linebackers during the game and still prevailed. Every time we needed our offense to answer, they did.”

There was no shortage of big plays on Lonoke’s end, as junior quarterback Grant Dewey completed 14 of 29 pass attempts for 251 yards and two touchdowns. The Jackrabbits first scored on a missed assignment by Star City’s defense, which left senior receiver D.J. Burton wide open on the right side of the field for a 65-yard touchdown toss from Dewey with 7:50 remaining in the first half. Burton took the wide screen and ran up the sideline untouched to tie the game at six, and junior kicker Jose Garcia added the extra point to give the ’Rabbits their only lead of the game, 7-6.

Junior receiver Blake Mack was the recipient on the other long touchdown pass for Lonoke. Mack caught Dewey’s pass on the left side and cut to the middle to avoid defenders before breaking left again at the 9:19 mark of the third quarter to cut Star City’s lead to 28-15 following Burton’s successful Wildcat run to convert two more points.

The Jackrabbits took the ball over on downs and struck again, this time on the strength of senior tailback Eric Williams, who gave Lonoke a first-and-goal at the 8-yard line with a 32-yard rumble up the gut. Williams got the call again on first down and went the rest of the way to make it 28-22.

House answered for Star City with his only touchdown of the night on a nine-yard run with 3:26 remaining in the third quarter. He also ran in the two-point conversion to stretch the Bulldogs’ lead once again, 36-22.

Lonoke looked as if it would strike quickly on its ensuing possession with a 20-yard run by senior tailback Brent Sims that would have given the Jackrabbits a first-and-goal at the 2-yard line, but a personal foul penalty for an illegal block backed them up to the Star City 11-yard line.

That killed momentum for the drive, as junior receiver Kody Smith was caught well behind the line of scrimmage on a pass from Dewey for a 12-yard loss, followed by short gain on a catch by Blake Gooden and two incompletions to give the ball back to the Bulldogs on downs.

The endless good-break, bad-break scenarios continued for the Jackrabbits on the next Star City drive. Lonoke stood up on defense and forced a 4th-and-11, but was called for an illegal substitution on the punt. That gave the Bulldogs a fresh set of downs.

The Jackrabbits eventually did get the ball back without giving up a score, and Williams took advantage with three consecutive carries for a combined 22 yards, including the six-yard tote to score with 8:24 remaining.

That closed the gap to 36-29, but Star City senior all-purpose player Lavante Gardner put a damper on yet another Lonoke attempt at a comeback when he returned Garcia’s kickoff 88 yards for another Bulldog score, this one to give them a 42-29 lead.

“We did an outstanding job in our kicking game,” Brown said. “Lavante Gardner, my gosh, we muff a punt, and he takes it and gets a first down. His kick returns were outstanding.

Lonoke kept digging and almost pulled even a third time when junior lineman Styver Hamric recovered a fumble when a shotgun snap got away from House and rolled back to the Star City 8-yard line.

The Jackrabbits were penalized for a false start and moved back to the 13, but Williams made it up on first down with an eight-yard carry, followed by another Wildcat run by Burton for the touchdown at the 4:55 mark of the fourth quarter. The extra-point attempt was foiled by a bad snap to leave the score at 42-35.

Lonoke took over once more on downs but was pinned deep in its own territory at the 5-yard line.

A bobbled snap on the Jackrabbits’ end resulted in Williams falling on the ball in the end zone for a safety to set the final margin.

Williams carried 16 times for 99 yards and two touchdowns for Lonoke, and had four receptions for 56 yards. The Jackrabbits finished with 381 total yards on offense.

For Star City, Gardner carried 13 times for 134 yards and a touchdown while Davis had 12 carries for 110 yards and a touchdown. The Bulldogs had 511 yards offense.