Wednesday, October 09, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Beebe travels for big match

Leader sportswriter

Another game carrying strong playoff implications in the 5A East Conference will take place this week when Beebe travels to Wynne for a showdown with the 4-1 Yellowjackets on Friday.

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

Beebe (3-2, 2-0) made a huge statement last week by dominating Forrest City in a 37-20 victory. The Mustangs were ranked in the Top-10 and considered an early favorite to challenge for the East title, but a gritty defensive performance by the Badgers held the high-octane Mustangs to under 100 yards of offense.

The Yellowjackets, under third-year coach Chris Hill, swept the East last year with an unbeaten run in the regular season, eventually making their way to the 5A state semifinals with a roster of over 30 seniors.

With many of their playmakers from 2012 graduated in the spring, and Division I quarterback recruit Ross Trail transferring to Olive Branch, Miss., many thought this year would be a trying year of rebuilding for Wynne.

They thought wrong.

Wynne opened the season with a close 28-27 loss to 6A Marion, but since then has dominated its opponents 190-42 in the last four games, including a 35-0 shutout over Blytheville to open the East Conference schedule, and a 46-26 victory over Greene County Tech last week.

“They’re a very well coached football team,” said Beebe coach John Shannon. “They’ve got tons of speed, good size. They’ve got two big offensive tackles. One of them is about 275, and the other is about 280. They move really well for big kids.

“Defensively, the ones who stand out for them are their linebackers, especially the middle linebacker. He’s really aggressive, and he’ll light you up if he gets an opportunity.

“It’s going to be another battle. It’s going to be a very physical football game. Hopefully we can play with them.”

There is plenty of young talent on the Wynne roster, including junior quarterback Zach Morris and sophomore running back Antonio Davis (5-7, 155). The Yellowjackets are speedy and undersized at the skill positions overall, but there is no shortage of size at the line. Sophomore Neal Logan weighs in at 245 pounds, junior Darrius Williams (6-3, 271) anchors one of the offensive tackle slots, while another tenth-grader, Rashawn Smith (6-0, 278) fills in the other tackle position, and also sees time on the defensive line.

“Coach Hill has done a great job,” Shannon said. “They graduated something like 26 seniors last year, and then they had two kids who rotated at quarterback for him last fall, and they both transferred out to different schools. They’ve never missed a beat. They’ve lost one game all year long. They’ve been beating everyone pretty soundly. Those kids understand how to win.”

When it came to noting standout performances on defense, Shannon gave a nod to the entire defensive unit, and also said the offensive line was the difference on the other side of the ball.

For a defense that struggled during the first two weeks of the season, the turnaround shown in the last three weeks has taken the Badgers from a team surrounded by question marks to legitimate league contenders.

“We felt like they had been playing a lot better,” Shannon said. “They were a lot more aggressive, more physical. Things had started clicking for them in the new stuff we had put in for them over the summer. We could see the confidence growing with our defense. To go out there and completely shut Forrest City down the way they did was a surprise to us too, but we felt all along we had a good defense. They’ve shown it, but they picked a really good time to come alive.”

The Forrest City victory was the biggest for the program in quite a while. Shannon has improved confidence in his team, but is also aware of the tasks that still lie ahead.

“It was huge,” Shannon said. “We haven’t had a signature win like that around here in a couple of years. So now our kids believe that we can go out and compete with anybody. It was big from that standpoint, and hopefully it carries over. From a coach’s standpoint, you worry about your kids getting the big head and things like that, but we talked long and hard yesterday about how this is just one win. We’ve got several games left.”