Tuesday, September 22, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Badgers fighting through injuries

Leader sports editor

Beebe hosts McClellan in another important matchup. This game could be described as being a matchup of two teams going in opposite directions. McClellan has been impressive this year in blowing out Sheridan, battling hard with Bryant in a tough loss, and defeating Lonoke last week, a team that beat Beebe the week before.

Beebe isn’t slipping because of internal problems or subpar performances, but the injury bug has hit the Badgers hard. Two publications had the Badgers ranked third to start the season after surging at the end of last year and coming a touchdown short of making the state championship game.

All those high expectations looked correct after Beebe blew past Greenbrier in week one, but disaster struck at Lonoke when starting halfback Jo’Vaughn Wyrick was lost for the season with a broken leg.

Since then, the Badgers have temporarily lost defensive lineman Reece Anders, who should be back this week, offensive lineman Sam Henry, who is still questionable for Friday, and quarterback Justin Burlison, who won’t start Friday, but could play after sitting out last week against Vilonia.

“We felt like we had a chance to be really good if we could stay away from those injuries,” said Beebe coach John Shannon. “Unfortunately we’ve had a bunch of them. Of course, Jo’Vaughn is out for the season and that’s a big one. But we might have everybody else back this week.”

Beebe struggled mightily on offense in the first half of last week’s loss to Vilonia. The Badgers outscored the Eagles in the second half, and Shannon hopes that’s a sign that his team is beginning to overcome the setbacks caused by the injuries.

“The second half against Lonoke and the first half against Vilonia, we kind of looked like the walking dead out there,” Shannon said. “We didn’t have Justin last week and we had to cut back our playbook quite a bit. But we started doing some things in that second half.

“It looks like that might’ve been the point where we finally stopped feeling sorry for ourselves over losing Jo’Vaughn and started moving forward.”

Sophomore Mason Walker started at quarterback last week and will start again on Friday. Shannon was excited about Walker’s athleticism in the preseason, though at the time he was projected to play mainly defense.

He doesn’t know the entire offense as well as Burlison, but he could present a more serious option threat for Beebe opponents than Burlison does.

“Like I said, we cut way back on the playbook for him last week trying to make things a little easier,” Shannon said. “We tried the option once and he did a good job, but the halfback screwed it up. He’s looked good running it in practice. Mason’s a good athlete so that might be something we’re able to do with him out there.”

McClellan beat Beebe in overtime last year in week four, but had to forfeit that game and its win over J.A. Fair.

The Lions were on pace to get at least a three seed until the forfeits, and instead, found itself needing to beat Jacksonville in the final game of the regular season just to make the playoffs. They lost that game 16-7, and have been on a mission this season under third-year coach Maurice Moody.

“We’re getting better every single week,” Moody said of his Crimson Lions. “I thought we played well against Sheridan and played hard against Bryant. We just had some mistakes that cost us that game against a tough 7A team. We knew we’d have to play well to beat Lonoke.

“They were No. 4 in the state. We gave up two doggone long plays, but other than that, we kept them in check defensively. We just have to keep doing what we do. I’m so proud of the kids. They’ve worked hard, gotten stronger in the weight room. We didn’t like the way it ended last year, and we’re working hard to change that. It starts this next game. We’re going to take it game by game, and play by play.”