Tuesday, December 03, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Carlisle hits road to face powerhouse in semifinal

Leader sportswriter

The Carlisle Bison are back to the class 2A state semifinals for the fourth time in the last eight years, but will face their toughest test to date Friday when they travel to the Arkansas/Louisiana border to face the defending state champion Junction City Dragons. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.

Junction City (11-0), the No. 1 team in class 2A, has won three of the past five state championships, and has the talent and experience to win its fourth 2A championship since 2008.

The undefeated Dragons have had little resistance thus far in their quest for another state title, as they beat Gurdon 25-6 in the second round of the playoffs, and dominated Hector in last week’s quarterfinal matchup 51-7.

“There’s no doubt they’re probably the most talented team we’ll see all year by far, and they have the tradition to go along with it,” said Carlisle coach Brandon Barbaree. “They have the playmakers. They have a running back who’s unbelievable in the Dancy kid.

“Their quarterback does a really good job of making throws. They used to not be able to throw it like they can now. Several years ago when Carlisle played them and Byran Jones (University of Arkansas) was there and all of those guys, they were a power-running team. Now they operate a lot out of the Spread, so it gives them a different dynamic.”

Even though the Dragons can and will throw it with junior quarterback Randall Holyfield, who has passed for 1,400 yards and 23 touchdowns this fall with just four interceptions, Barbaree said the defending state champs will run the ball between 60 and 65percent of the time out of the Spread.

One of Holyfield’s favorite targets is a big one in tight end Jamario Bell (6-6, 225; 4.9 speed), who’s been offered a scholarship by the U of A.

Pacing the Dragons’ backfield is national recruit Jaqwis Dancy (5-11, 182; 4.5 speed), who ran for 1,600 yards and 15 touchdowns a year ago. This season, Dancy has 1,331 yards. Another playmaker the Bison will need to try and contain at all times is versatile junior Keandre Evans.

Last week against Hector, Evans scored touchdowns on a 75-yard kickoff return, a 5-yard run, and a 65-yard interception return. Junction City is 2-0 all-time against the Bison. The two tradition-rich schools last met in the 2008 semifinals. The Dragons won that meeting 29-7.

Other than the Spread formation, Barbaree said this Junction City team will also line up in the I-formation from time-to-time in short-yardage situations, and on rare occasions will line up in the Wishbone, which was one of the Dragons’ main offenses from several years ago.

On defense, Barbaree said he’s seen Junction City line up in a 5-2 and four-man front on film, but expects to see even more linemen stacked in the box come Friday in an attempt to try and stop his team’s potent rushing attack.

“We’ll see a bunch of people in that box no matter what,” Barbaree said. “We’re going to expect both of them, just from the offense we run, and hopefully we’ll be able to move some bodies up there.”

The Dragon defense, led by senior end Robert Armstrong and junior tackle Taylor Mason (6-3, 280), held Hector to a minimal 176 yards last week. Armstrong has racked up more than 60 tackles this season, and junior linebacker Josh Armstrong has made plays throughout the year as well.

Even though it’s going to be a tough task for the Bison (12-1) to leave south Arkansas with a win Friday, Carlisle’s style of offense and strong defensive play could be the formula to beat the favored defending champs.

Last week against Rison, who lost to Junction City 40-24 in week two of the regular season, the Bison ran for 336 yards. According to Barbaree, Rison was able to move the football on the Junction City defense with their smashmouth style of play.

Senior standout running back DeRon Ricks (6-0, 240) ran for 198 yards and four touchdowns on 21 carries in last week’s 30-19 win over the Wildcats. Ricks leads the Bison rushing attack this season with 1,778 yards and 22 touchdowns.

Fellow senior standout Bo Weddle has had similar success running the ball this season, as he’s totaled 1,200 yards and 21 touchdowns. Last week against Rison, he carried 17 times for 123 yards. Weddle also leads the Bison defense from his inside linebacker position with 115 tackles this season, including 13 last week.

Ricks, also an inside linebacker on defense, had 12 tackles last week. Another senior linebacker, Jordan Sheets, played his best defensive game against Rison as he finished with 11 tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles.

Friday’s forecast has as high as a 70 percent chance of rain, but Barbaree doesn’t believe the weather will have too much of an effect on the outcome of the game.

“They of course have the special runner, Dancy,” Barbaree said. “You watch him, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a wet field. We saw him against Gurdon on a wet field, and he can still make all the cuts. We saw him against Hector and he was great. We saw him against Bearden. He’s going to sign D-I somewhere.

“You’ve got the big tight end, Jamario Bell, who’s already been offered by Arkansas. The Holyfield kid at quarterback – they’ve got all these athletes that are pretty fundamentally sound as well, which is the scary part. Up front, they’ve got seniors that can move bodies.

“Just all over the field they’ve got athletes and they’ve got size and strength. So we’ve got a pretty tough task ahead of us.”