Tuesday, October 23, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Badgers somehow still alive

Leader sportswriter

With the top three playoff seeds out of the 5A East Conference all but decided, Friday’s matchup between Beebe and Nettleton at A.S. “Bro” Erwin Stadium carries the heaviest implications of any league game coming up in week eight.

The Badgers (2-6, 2-3) have turned their season around with back-to-back East victories after losing their first six games of the season. The Raiders (4-4, 2-3) pulled off what could be considered a mild upset last week with a 41-40 victory over Forrest City, which currently holds the third spot in the league standings.

The East schedule has been full of unpredictable results for Nettleton through the first five weeks of league play. The Raiders lost to Batesville 38-12 to starts its conference campaign, followed by a 12-7 loss to Blytheville. The Raiders turned things around with a big 38-7 victory over a much-improved Paragould team, but turned around the following week and lost 35-27 to struggling Greene County Tech.

“I think they’re a lot like us,” Beebe coach John Shannon said of Nettleton. “They are young like we are. They had a real good junior-high team last year, and they’re having to grow up like our kids have been.”

The Badgers have eased many of their early-season growing pains with clutch performances in close games the past two weeks. It took a late defensive stand to hold off Greene County Tech last week in a thrilling 37-34 win for Beebe after breaking through on the winning side a week earlier against Blytheville in a 27-26 nail biter.

The Chickasaws are still in the mix as well at 2-3 in conference play with Paragould and Forrest City still remaining on their schedule. The loser this week between Beebe and Nettleton can essentially forget about any chance of making the postseason.

Even though it’s just for the fourth seed, this is a huge game for both teams,” Shannon said. “Both teams have a lot of momentum and are headed in the right direction. It’s just a huge, huge football game with a lot at stake. We’re trying to keep our winning streak alive, and our playoff streak alive, and they’re trying to make it to the playoffs for the first time in a while, so there’s a lot for both of us to play for.”

The Raiders, led by third-year coach Jay Murphree, have gone to a pistol formation, abandoning the spread offense of the previous two seasons. Junior quarterback Dustin Dunbar leads the run-heavy attack, setting the stage for a potential battle of ball control on Friday.

Beebe has seen improvement on the offensive side as well. Sophomore quarterback Aaron Nunez has shown signs of being a strong option-based rusher, while junior fullback Eric Thorn returned from injury last week to rush for over 120 yards against Greene County Tech.

“Our kids are playing with a little more confidence,” Shannon said. “There are still a few things we would like to see cleaned up, but compared to where we were at, we’re pleased. Nunez has played really well the last two weeks, and he’s making better decisions out there on the field, and Eric had three of his best games since the Forrest City game.”