Tuesday, September 30, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Badgers meet Red Devils

Leader sports editor

Even though it’s only the second week of conference play this season, Friday’s 7 p.m. matchup at A.S. ‘Bro’ Erwin Stadium between the Beebe Badgers and the Jacksonville Red Devils carries huge playoff implications.

It’s the first-ever gridiron meeting between the two schools, and a lot is riding on it. Things have not gone well for either team for the most part. Jacksonville finally got in the win column last week with a 42-0 blowout of J.A. Fair, while the 0-4 Badgers remain the unluckiest team in the state after suffering a 30-22 overtime defeat at McClellan.

There is a lot of football left to be played, but with Pulaski Academy and Sylvan Hills soaring to victories each week and looking like locks for playoff spots, that leaves the rest of the league battling for two remaining playoff berths.

In the preseason, Beebe was expected to be right in the mix with PA and SHHS, but have suffered terrible luck with turnovers and injuries. The Badgers have not played a single game with its entire projected starting lineup, as a total of seven players have had to sit out at least one game. They are also averaging four turnovers per game, including 13 lost fumbles.

While injuries and turnovers are hard to control, injuries more so than turnovers, one thing Beebe can definitely change is the costly penalties. The Badgers have cost themselves a few touchdowns with dumb penalties this season as well.

Beebe will be without starting quarterback Aaron Nunez the rest of the season, and will miss starting linebacker Quentin Shears this week. On the positive side, it did get starting fullback Trip Smith back last week, and he ran for 190 yards despite not being in top condition.

“Some years it just seems like everything goes against you,” said Beebe coach John Shannon. “We met with the team (Sunday) and talked about things. Right now they still feel pretty good. They realize we just have to stop beating ourselves with turnovers and penalties.”

Even though Beebe entered the game 0-3, the loss last Friday was a major upset and puts the Badgers’ backs squarely against the wall. That concerns Jacksonville coach Barry Hickingbotham, who sees Beebe as a dangerous team.

“On film they look like a formidable football team,” said Hickingbotham. “That offensive line is huge. They’re definitely going to dwarf us. That fullback they got is the real deal. They’re just a few mistakes away from being 3-1. We’re going in there against a team that has their backs to the wall and we expect them to come out fighting. We have to respond to that.”

Shannon echoed that sentiment.

“Our backs are totally up against the wall now,” Shannon said. “If we want any chance to make the playoffs we have to win this one.”

Jacksonville should have everyone healthy and eligible to play on Friday. The Red Devils have a bit more pep in practice this week after getting their first win, and realize how much a win this week would do for their own playoff aspirations.

“This one is big for both of us,” Hickingbotham said. “They’ve got a conference loss so I’m sure they’re feeling the pressure. We just have to keep building, adding to what we accomplished last week – match their intensity because I’m sure they’re going to come out hard.”