Saturday, September 19, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Lions’ size, speed beats Jackrabbits

Leader sports editor

Another huge opposing line and at least equal speed was enough to hand the Lonoke Jackrabbits their first loss of the season Friday at James B. Abraham Stadium. The McClellan Crimson Lions overpowered the Jackrabbits, especially the defensive line, and had enough speed to counter Lonoke’s strength and prevail 32-16.

“That size finally caught up to us,” said Lonoke coach Doug Bost. “I think, at least I hope, we’ve played the three biggest lines we’re going to see this year. Star City is every bit as big as (McClellan), Beebe is big, and now these guys. Plus they have the kind of speed to sort of match us, and it all just caught up to us.”

Making matters worse for Lonoke was the team’s leading rusher, Justin Meadows, suffered a shoulder stinger on defense early in the game. That limited his touches, but it wasn’t the only factor.

“That was part of it,” Bost said. “The other part was we couldn’t get outside on them like we’ve done on other teams. They just have a great combination of size and speed. That’s a very good team. Coach (Maurice) Moody has them going in the right direction.”

Most of the game was played on the ground, and possessions were limited. No points were scored in the first or third quarters. McClellan extended a 16-8 halftime lead to 24-8 with a touchdown and two-point conversion with 10:23 left in the game. It was just McClellan’s second drive of the half. The Lions faced third and 4 at the Lonoke 47 when quarterback Dalvion Childs pumped on the fake slant route. That got the defense to bite, and Childs hit Andrew Campbell running all alone down the sideline for a 53-yard touchdown pass.

Any sense of control of the game the Lions felt they had by taking a two-touchdown lead didn’t last long. After sacking Lonoke quarterback Savonte Rountree for a 2-yard loss on the first play of the next drive, Rountree hit a quick slant perfectly to receiver Casey Martin. The McClellan defender missed the initial tackle and no one else was between Martin and the end zone. Lion safety Tommy Crumpton gave chase but couldn’t catch the junior Jackrabbit, who cramped up at the end of the run but still managed to stumble into the end zone for the 73-yard touchdown.

The two-point conversion was good, leaving Lonoke with 24-16 with 9:34 to play, but the Jackrabbits couldn’t get the ball back.

McClellan started its next drive at its own 34, and chewed up 7:10 of the clock. The Lions finally scored on the drive’s 14th play, and converted the two points to set the final margin with 2:24 remaining in the game.

Lonoke was forced to the air on the next drive, but McClellan’s pass rush was too strong. A sack for a 9-yard loss set up second and 19. Rountree and Martin connected on the slant route again, but McClellan was better prepared and held it to a 5-yard gain. More pressure on third down forced a scrambling Rountree to throw into coverage, where Pierre Strong intercepted the pass to seal the win with 50 seconds remaining.

“We just couldn’t pass,” Bost said. “We didn’t have time. They’re line was so much bigger than ours anyway, and when they’re bring seven or eight, we just couldn’t keep them out of the backfield.”

Bost told his team to keep their heads up, and is still very optimistic about the rest of the season.

“Like I told them, the conference championship starts next week,” Bost said. “That’s when it counts and we still have a lot of play for. We’ve beaten two top five teams, and we lost to a really good team. And that was all to get us ready for conference. So we’re going to keep after it.”

McClellan got on the board first early in the second quarter on a one-play, 35-yard drive when Campbell took the read handoff, cut right, broke several tackles and raced up the visitors’ sideline for the score. Fullback Raoshun Young barely snagged a high direct snap and stumbled into the end zone for the two-point conversion and an 8-0 McClellan lead.

After forcing a three-and-out by Lonoke, the Lions were knocking on the door again before another high snap ruined a long drive. McClellan had gone 73 yards in eight plays to the Lonoke 14, but lost 17 on the bad snap to set up third and 23. After a 3-yard gain, a perfect pass to the 5-yard line was caught, but broken up by a big hit from Lonoke’s Martin.

That’s when the Jackrabbits struck. On the first play of the ensuing drive, Meadows went 72 yards on the option pitch left. Coleman added the two points to tie the game with 1:28 left in the first half.

It wasn’t much time, but it was enough the Crimson Lions to reclaim the lead before the break. After a pass interference call on third and 7, McClellan hit a 16-yard pass play to the Lonoke 39, and got the rest on a throw into double coverage. Lonoke was called for pass interference on that play, too, but Campbell made an acrobatic catch amidst two defenders to come down with the ball in the back of the end zone with 26 seconds left in the half.

Trenton Lewis added the two points to send it into the break with McClellan leading 16-8.

McClellan (2-1) outgained Lonoke (2-1) 449-281 in total offense.

The Jackrabbits open conference play in the 4A-2 next Friday at Heber Springs. The Panthers (1-2) lost 40-12 at home to Harding Academy on Friday.