Tuesday, November 18, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Beebe, Trojans for semis

Leader sports editor

Giving just a cursory look at the two teams, one might not think Beebe and Hot Springs are that similar. Taking a more in-depth view reveals some striking similarities between the two teams that meet each other at 7 p.m. Friday for a 5A quarterfinal matchup in Garland County.

Picked by conference coaches to finish seventh in the eight-team 5A South, the Trojans, 7-4, won a share of the conference championship and earned a No. 1 seed in the playoffs. No one saw it coming, especially after they started the season with three-straight nonconference losses.

Beebe, also 7-4, was picked to finish third in the 5A Central, but also stumbled out of the gate with three-straight losses. Both teams had some injuries to deal with early, and both teams made a lot of mistakes in those losses.

Both teams play a power-run brand of football, both have multiple runners that are dangerous, and both racked up lots of yardage in close first-round victories.

It will be an ironic twist of fate for two teams that are used to being a unique opponent for conference foes.

“Anymore no one does what we do,” said Hot Springs coach Chris Vereen. “We see the spread every single week and I’m sure Beebe does too. So it is a concern to be playing a team that does something you’ve never see. But in another way I like it. We were in a track meet last week and I hate that kind of game. I like a 21-14 type of game.”

The Badgers lead Class 5A in rushing, averaging 345 yards per game and 45 rushing touchdowns on the season. Hot Springs is second in those categories, averaging 320 yards per game and 41 rushing touchdowns.

“We’re about as close to a carbon copy of each other as two teams can get,” said Beebe coach John Shannon. “From coaches I’ve talked to, they made a lot of mistakes early on, but they’ve cleaned that up and are playing some good football right now, especially on offense.”

Trojan running back Clarence “Cleo” Floyd had 30 carries for 364 yards in last week’s 47-35 win over Little Rock Christian Academy, but it’s quarterback Anthony Goffigan that catches Shannon’s eye.

“That running back had a lot of long runs, but that quarterback is the main thing that worries me,” Shannon said. “I think he’s the one that’s really instrumental in what they do. He was their starter last year and got hurt, but he’s back now and he’s a dangerous weapon for them.”

Goffigan engineers Hot Springs’ modified Wing-T, which often lines one third of the T up as a slot receiver. Goffigan is an effective passer, but the extra receiver is often used to spread the defense out a bit to create running room up the middle.

Vereen knows a thing or two about the power running game, and knows he’s up against a coaching staff that is familiar with his style.

“Well there’s probably nobody in the state that knows what we’re trying to do better than coach Shannon. “Vereen said. “And he’s right. Goffigan is the one that makes us go. Some people might see that Cleo went for 300 and gear up on him, and next thing you know Goffigan’s gone for 240 on them. So I don’t think there’s going to be too much fooling coach Shannon and his staff. They know this style and it’s just going to come down to who executes better and eliminates mistakes.”

Beebe runs the Dead-T, and has enjoyed tremendous success offensively this year, that is when it hasn’t turned the ball over. There have been several fumbles this season, including 12 in the first three games. That problem had not come up much late in the year, but three fumbles, two of which were lost, in the third quarter aided Nettleton’s comeback after the Badgers built a 28-7 lead.

For the most part, Beebe’s running game has been exceptional since conference play began. Two runners, fullback Trip Smith and halfback Jo’Vaughn Wyrick, who moved in from Augusta during the summer, have rushed for more than 1,000 yards, and halfback Clayton Meurer has more than 700.

“We knew what Trip could do because he got almost 2,000 last year,” Shannon said. “We knew Jo was fast and would be good in space, but we didn’t know how good of a runner he would be between the tackles. Turns out he’s also a tough, tough runner. He doesn’t have nearly the amount of carries Trip has, but when we need a big play we put the ball in his hands.”

No team with that many rushing yards does so on the talent of backs alone. The Badgers offensive line has been exceptional this year as well. Shannon had high hopes for the unit since the spring, and is pleased with how it has played.

“Before the season started we sat down as a unit and talked about goals for that group,” Shannon said. “One of the goals was to get two guys over 1,000 yards. They were actually a little upset that we didn’t get it in the regular season. The starters were asking me for one more series against North Pulaski to do it, but I wasn’t going to do that to them.”

Wyrick had 964 yards after the regular-season finale, then had 158 in last week’s 49-48 win over Nettleton, a game in which all three starting running backs had 100 yards.

If the Badgers win on Friday, it will mark the first time in 31 years they have advanced to the semifinals of the state playoffs. The last time a Beebe team made it that far was 1983, Shannon’s senior year at Beebe High School.

While the head Trojan didn’t guarantee a win, he did have one guarantee.

“I guarantee you it’ll be the first game finished on Friday,” Vereen said. “That clock may not stop that much because I don’t think there’s going to be too many incomplete passes. And I’m looking forward to it. It’s like we were saying over the weekend, it’s just going to be good old, hard-nosed American football at Hot Springs High School this Friday.”