Wednesday, September 25, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Jackrabbits after revenge at Heber

Leader sportswriter

After opening its regular season with a close loss on the road, Lonoke has won its last two nonconference games over class 5A teams, and on Friday the Jackrabbits will be looking to make it three wins in a row as they travel to Heber Springs to kickoff their 4A-2 Conference schedule.

The Panthers have had the Jackrabbits’ number over the last couple of seasons, and have won four of the past seven games in the series since both teams entered the 4A-2 Conference in 2006. Heber Springs though, is winless this fall and Lonoke seems to be getting better.

In last week’s 35-8 win over class 5A’s Little Rock McClellan, the Jackrabbits’ offense was slowed by considerably wet conditions, but the defense came up big, scoring two touchdowns to help boost Lonoke’s record to 2-1.

“We’re real happy,” said Lonoke coach Doug Bost of his team’s 2-1 start. “You use these three nonconference games to make sure you’ve got people in the right spots personnel-wise, and we feel good about that coming out of three games. We’ve had some success and we like where we are, but at the same time,weknow that the real season starts this week with conference play.

“You want to make the state playoffs and compete for a conference championship – that starts this week. So, it’s great coming out of there 2-1, but we know this is when the real season starts.”

Bost said the Panthers have abandoned their traditional run game and have gone to more of a high volume passing attack. According to Bost, Heber Springs will line up primarily in the spread formation, and will consistently line up in a four and five wide receiver set.

“We’re going to have to be solid with our pass defense this week,” Bost said. “Most of the time I’d say they’re four and five wide and throwing it around, which is kind of unusual. The last few years they’ve been a heavy run team. So it’s a little bit of a different philosophy they’ve got this year.”

As far as what Panther playmakers Lonoke’s defense will have to try and contain, Bost was quick to mention two guys that helped beat his team last year in a 21-6 week four loss at James B. Abraham Stadium.

Senior quarterback Michael Kramer returns to the helm after generating more than 2,000 yards of offense a year ago. In last year’s conference opener at Lonoke, he broke a scoreless tie with a 2-yard touchdown run, and fellow senior and returning starter Chandler Marquardt scored the game-clinching touchdown from 1-yard out from his halfback position.

“He runs hard,” Bost said of Marquardt. “He’s a downhill runner, between the tackles guy, and he runs real hard. So, offensive-wise, he’s probably a guy we’re going to key in on, and when it’s five wide, their quarterback’s going to throw it. He’s not a runner, so we’re going to have to get ready for the pass.”

Bost said the key to slowing down Heber Springs’ high volume passing attack will be to give the Panthers’ offense several different looks defensively, and consistently dropping as many as eight guys back into coverage.

As far as what the Jackrabbits’ offense can expect from Heber Springs’ defense, Bost said the Panthers will line up primarily in a 3-4 and 3-5 defense, but added “They do give you multiple looks on defense.”

Even though both teams return a total of nine starters, Lonoke will be the slight favorite in this game for the first time in three years. Bost and his team hope to live up to that expectation, but more importantly, the Jackrabbits simply want to focus on starting their 4A-2 Conference schedule on a high note.

“They know how important it is to start off 1-0 in conference,” Bost said of his team. “This is one of the toughest conferences in class 4A. So we need to be ready to come out and compete this week against a good Heber Springs team. They’ve had our number. They’ve beaten us the last two years. It’s always been a close game, but we need to get ready for them this year.”

Kickoff for Friday’s game is at 7 p.m.