Saturday, August 30, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Badgers set for Greenbrier

Leader sports editor

Beebe will be one of the first teams in Arkansas to get the 2014 football season underway when it takes on Greenbrier on Tuesday at War Memorial Stadium as part of the First Security Bank Kickoff Classic.

The Badgers and Panthers have been opening the season against each other for about a decade now and have developed a nice rivalry. In recent years Greenbrier has risen in the ranks of 5A football with the presence of former Harding University coach Randy Tribble at the helm. There has been record-breaking quarterbacks, loads and loads of points, even upset wins on the road at 6A powerhouses like Texarkana, but there hasn’t yet been a championship.

This year, Greenbrier won’t be quite the same team that’s been flinging the ball all over the field, at least it didn’t appear that way in their scrimmages against Sylvan Hills and Joe T. Robinson.

The Panthers have a two-headed quarterback. Senior Will Drewry started the first seven games last year before sidelined by injury. He was replaced by behemoth back Harold Ross, who is 6-foot-1, 220 pounds. Ross played very well and both will catch shotgun snaps in Tuesday’s matchup.

“I think they’re going to go with the smaller guy to throw it and the bigger kid when they want to run it,” said Beebe coach John Shannon. “Although the big kid throws it pretty well, too.”

The Badgers also scrimmaged last week, hosting a jamboree with Harding Academy and Central Arkansas Christian. Shannon’s offense moved the ball easily against both defenses, but fumbled a troubling five times, losing four of them.

“We moved the ball really well,” Shannon said. “Neither team was able to slow us down, but I wasn’t very pleased with the fumbles. I think there were some factors behind it. It was our first real contact outside a few light scrimmages amongst ourselves in almost a year. Plus it was really hot and humid. Everyone was really sweaty and I think the ball just got slippery. At least I hope that was part of it. Either way, we’re going to work on securing that football a lot going into this game.”

Shannon was particularly pleased with the defense in the scrimmage. Neither the Wildcats or the Mustangs were able to sustain drives against the Badger defense, but both were, on a couple of occasions, able to hit big plays in the air.

“Overall I thought they did really well,” Shannon said of the defense. “We had a couple of breakdowns in the secondary that I think will be easy to correct. For the most part I was very pleased with the defense.”

While Greenbrier showed a different skill set among its skill players, Shannon, a former offensive lineman, believes the Panther interior is behind the offensive adjustments.

“I was impressed with that offensive line,” Shannon said of the Panthers. “It looks to me like the strength of their team. They look pretty dog gone good. With that big running back and that big quarterback in there, we really have to be wary of them. They look like they’re going to be able to overpower some teams this year.”

Shannon also has a quite formidable front line, but not much depth to it. And while Greenbrier isn’t throwing it every down, it is still play very fast, snapping the ball, usually, within 12 seconds of the previous play’s end.

The head Badger believes his team conditions as much as any team, and more than most, but that game speed is always a different experience from running in practice.

“I thought we got a little tired later on in the scrimmage,” Shannon said. “You could tell we weren’t moving as fast. That’s just something, no matter how much you condition, and I feel like we’re in better shape than most teams we play, playing at game speed tires you out until you get used to it. Playing a team that plays so fast does concern you a little for a first game.”

Beebe also showed some variety to its offense, lining up at times in a spread formation. It was still primarily a run-oriented offense, like Shannon’s standard Dead-T, but it was effective. While junior Tripp Smith, 5-11, 205, is the feature fullback in the Dead-T, junior Augusta transfer Jo’Vaughn Wyrick played tailback most of the time in the spread.

“I thought Jo’Vaughn Wyrick had a real good night running the ball,” Shannon said. “He moved to the fullback, or tailback or whatever you call it, when we went to our spread and showed some speed and some good moves. He was hard for them to bring down.”

Conversely, Greenbrier showed a propensity to stick with a certain option play that has given Beebe fits in past years.

“They run that zone bubble where the quarterback can hand it off, run it himself or pull up and throw it,” Shannon said. “That’s one thing we’ve struggled with the last few years. You have to be in position to stop two runs and the pass.

“It is interesting that the spread offense has sort of come full circle and evolved from a pass offense to one that’s basically the old Wing-T stuff, just all spread out.”