Tuesday, October 15, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Lonoke heading to powerhouse

Leader sportswriter

The Lonoke Jackrabbits will face their toughest test to date on Friday when they travel to Pine Bluff to take on the undefeated, No. 3-ranked Dollarway Cardinals in what will be a clash between the last two unbeaten teams in 4A-2 Conference play.

Dollarway (6-0, 3-0) has run roughshod on its competition so far this season, beating opponents by an average of 40-5 weekly. After narrowly dropping its season-opener at Star City in week one, Lonoke (5-1, 3-0) has reeled off five-straight wins, the most dramatic of which came in week five, a come-from-behind 39-32 win over Newport at James B. Abraham Stadium.

In week four, the Cardinals opened their 4A-2 Conference schedule at Newport, and beat the Greyhounds by a sound 42-0 margin.

Keeping up with the school tradition, the Cardinals’ biggest strength on both sides of the ball is their speed, but they’re also very big up front. On the offensive line, Dollarway averages 300 pounds across, something Lonoke coach Doug Bost was quick to point out when discussing Friday’s much-anticipated matchup.

“They’ve got the biggest offensive and defensive line we’ve seen all year,” said Bost. “The offensive line averages 300 pounds, and the skill guys have the most speed that we’ve seen all year. So, top-to-bottom, it is the best team that we face this year.”

Offensively, the Cardinals primarily run out of the Wishbone formation, according to Bost, but Bost said the Cardinals will also line up in the Spread if they feel like they need to create more space for their skill players to get into the open field.

Starting at quarterback for Dollarway is speedy senior Joshua Liddell (6-2, 190), an Arkansas State commit, who’s already accounted for more than 1,600 total yards of offense, including 13 passing touchdowns and six rushing scores.

“He’s our best athlete,” Dollarway coach Cortez Lee said of his quarterback.

Assisting Liddell in the backfield on offense is junior running back Keyshawn Williams, who ran for 132 yards and one touchdown on 14 carries in last week’s 48-7 win over Clinton. Senior Darius Robinson and sophomore Markel Scott also contribute in the Cardinal backfield.

Liddell can throw it as well when needed. Last week against Clinton, he completed 8 of 12 passes for 122 yards and two scores, both of which went to Henry Murphy, another Dollarway playmaker Lonoke will have to account for at all times.

Defensively, the Cardinals have given up just two touchdowns all season, the second of which came in the fourth quarter against Clinton last week after leading 48-0.

Before that, they had shut out their last three opponents and given up only a field goal since a 34-19 win over Helena-West Helena Central in the season opener.

Bost said Dollarway will rely on their linemen to win the battle in the trenches, and will go man-to-man in the secondary, because the Cardinals have the speed to match up with any team in the state.

“It’s a man-to-man defense and they’ve got the speed to run with everybody,” Bost said of Dollarway. “It’s hard to get separation because the four or five guys they go man-to-man with run 4.4/4.5’s. It’s just very hard to get separation and they got a couple of 300-pounders on the D-line. So that’s what makes them so good on the defensive side is their size and their speed.”

Senior cornerback Kabion Ento, who Lee says “is hands down the best secondary guy in the state,” leads the Cardinals’ secondary with four interceptions in the six games played this season. Liddell also plays free safety when needed in the team’s 4-3 man defense.

It’s no secret that Lonoke will have to play its best game of the season this week if it expects to keep up with the Cardinals on the scoreboard Friday.

In order for the Jackrabbits to have success offensively, Bost pointed out that his linemen will need to stay on their blocks and drive defenders back on a consistent basis, and his ball carriers will need to run downfield rather than try and outrun Dollarway’s defenders from sideline-to-sideline.

“Offensive-wise, we’re going to have to run right at them,” Bost said. “Not sideline-to-sideline, but right at them. You can’t run sideline-to-sideline on them because of their pure speed. People that have had success against them have run right at them, and that’s been our success this year.

“On defense, the key is to wrap up. You’ve got to wrap up these guys or they’re going to turn small runs into long gains. With their speed, we’re going to have to wrap up on the defensive side of the ball, and make sure we’re in the right gaps or it can be a long game.”