Tuesday, September 09, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Beebe welcomes rival

Leader sportswriter

Either Lonoke or Beebe will get their first win of the 2014 regular season on Friday when the two teams square off in the annual Battle of Hwy. 31 nonconference game that’ll kick off at 7:30 p.m. at A.S. “Bro” Erwin Stadium in Beebe.

Both the Badgers and Jackrabbits suffered losses in their week-one matchups. The Badgers will enter Friday’s game with extra rest, as they played last Tuesday against Greenbrier at War Memorial Stadium.

Turnovers on offense and giving up the big play on defense plagued Beebe in its 48-29 loss to the Panthers. Those same mishaps contributed to Lonoke’s loss as well, as the Jackrabbits dropped a 31-18 decision to fellow class 4A member, Star City.

Beebe returns the most experience of the two rivals. The Badgers return eight offensive starters and six defensive starters from last year’s team that finished the 2013 season with a 5-6 record.

Lonoke won last year’s Battle of Hwy. 31 game by the final score of 41-14, but several pieces are missing from that Jackrabbit team that finished 2013 with a 9-3 record.

The Jackrabbits return five offensive starters and seven starters on defense, but despite the new and old faces on both teams, each coach knows what to expect entering Friday’s much-anticipated matchup.

“It’s always a big game,” said Lonoke coach Doug Bost. “There’s always going to be a good crowd whether it’s here or there, and it’s always competitive, too. So it’s a big game this week.”

“Typically it’s a very close ball game, a well-played game and a hard-hitting game,” said Beebe coach John Shannon. “Both teams come to play. They’ve been playing each other since way back when I was in high school 30 years ago and probably before then, too.

“So they’ve been playing for a long, long time around here. Our kids know their kids and vice versa. It’s usually a dogfight.”

Despite having valuable experience returning for both teams, each will enter Friday’s showdown a little beat up, especially in the backfield.

Lonoke’s top two tailbacks, Josh Coleman (5-10, 190) and Deven Mosely (5-9, 220), and fullback Chandler Elmore (5-10, 195) are questionable for Friday’s game with ankle injuries, and Beebe’s 2,000-yard rusher from a season ago, Tripp Smith (5-11, 195), has been ruled out for week two after injuring a finger in a weight-lifting accident just before the start of the regular season.

Lonoke will also be without a starting wide receiver because he was ejected in last week’s game against Star City. He’ll be eligible to return in week three.

With Coleman and Mosely slowed by injuries, Lonoke junior Joe Carter (5-10, 170) took the bulk of the second-half carries last Friday against Star City, and for Beebe, sophomore back Xavier Jones (6-2, 240), who rushed for more than 2,000 yards in junior high last year, had the most carries against Greenbrier.

Both offenses prefer to run the ball first from their varied offensive formations. The Jackrabbits like to run it out of their Power Spread formation, while Beebe likes to wear opponents down in the trenches with Shannon’s Dead-T attack.

Shannon still remembers Coleman’s performance against his defense last year, and he said he was impressed with junior quarterback SaVonte Rountree (6-1, 175), who led Lonoke in rushing last week.

“Their running back (Coleman) had a good game against us last year,” Shannon said. “They got a new quarterback that looked really good Friday night against Star City, especially running the ball. I heard he was a real good passer but not much of a runner, but he ran the ball exceptionally well Friday night.”

Like Shannon is with Lonoke, Bost is well aware of what Beebe’s going to bring offensively, and who the Badgers will bring it with.

“They just line up in two tight ends in that Dead-T formation and they’re going to come running at you,” Bost said. “The kid who was in junior high last year (Jones), he is just a man-child in there. It’s same ole Beebe. They’re just going to line up and come at you behind that big offensive line.”

Defensively, Beebe lines up in a 5-2 front compared to Lonoke’s base 4-3, and both teams’ defensive strengths is shutting down the run game. However, both teams’ defenses struggled stopping their week one opponent’s passing attacks.

Rountree and Beebe senior quarterback Aaron Nunez (5-8, 135) can both make critical throws when called upon to do so, but with both teams preferring to run first, Shannon and Bost both expect another physical game between the two rivals come Friday night.

“Their entire defense stuffed our rear ends last year, and they’ve got most of them back,” Shannon said of Lonoke’s defense. “So we’re expecting a dogfight from their defense Friday night.”

“We need to be physical this week,” Bost said. “That’s what Beebe’s going to be. They’re going to line up and hit you in the mouth and if they can get 3 yards a pop they’re happy with that.

“They’ve got three big ole down linemen (on defense), and that’s the smallest part of our team is our offensive linemen. So we’ve got to be able to control those guys there.”