Saturday, September 05, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Badgers shed blue monkey

Leader sports editor

The Beebe Badgers ended a five-year winless streak against the Greenbrier Panthers on Tuesday, winning their annual season opener 41-27 in a game probably not as close as the score would indicate.

A key defensive breakdown and a quick fumble put the Badgers in a 14-0 hole, and the Badgers didn’t score until just two minutes remained in the first half. But that touchdown sparked a 34-6 run by the Badgers and led to the Kickoff Classic victory at War Memorial Stadium.

“It’s a big deal all the way around for everybody,” said Beebe coach John Shannon. “It’s been five years since the high school team has beat Greenbrier. So it’s exciting.”

Greenbrier got the ball to start the game and put together a 10-play, 74-yard drive that included first-down conversions on third and 11, fourth and 1 and third and 9. The last conversion went for a touch down and a quick Panther lead.

Beebe’s first drive ended with a fumble on the fourth play. The second drive stalled on an incomplete pass on fourth and 4 from the Panther 14. It was the only pass attempt of the game for the Badgers. Greenbrier’s Spread offense shredded the Badger defense on the ensuing possession.

The Panthers threw seven-straight passes and completed all of them, never facing a third down. The drive included plays of 31, 17 and finally 23 yards for a touchdown.

Beebe needed to change the pace of the game, and dialed up a 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive that took 6:48 off the clock. Halfback Jo’Vaughn Wyrick burst up the middle, breaking one tackle and dodging another for the final 25 yards and the first of his four touchdowns.

Connor Patrom added the extra point to make it 14-7 with 2:08 left in the first half.

The Badgers got it back quickly when, on third and 1 from its own 34, Greenbrier quarterback Howard Ross completed a 15-yard pass to Alex Massey, who fumbled the ball after taking a big hit by Patrom. Garrett Grier covered it for the Badgers on the Panther 49 with 1:26 on the clock.

Beebe came out of the Dead T and lined up with three wide and a lot of motion, but it initially fell flat. Three plays lost 2 yards before Wyrick lined up at quarterback to take a direct shotgun snap, and again beat a trail right down the middle of the field for 51 yards and a touchdown.

Patrom’s extra point failed, sending Greenbrier into halftime with a 14-13 lead.

The Badgers got the ball to start the second half, but Wyrick fumbled it on the second play at the Panther 28. Two plays later, Ross hit Massey with a 17-yard touchdown pass. The extra point was no good, leaving it 20-13 with 11 minutes left in the third quarter.

That changed quickly when Patrom took the ensuing kickoff near the Greenbrier sideline at the 5, and returned it up the middle for 95 yards and the score. It was his second return of the game and third of his career.

“The first one tonight was my second one ever, so I was nervous,” said Patrom. “I felt like they were probably going to kick it to me, and I just kind of ran it out wide and didn’t get anywhere. It’s a wedge return so it’s supposed to go up the middle. The second one, I just said I’m going up the middle you know, why not? And I got some great blocks. Bo Smith got one huge block for me and that was it.”

Shannon said the execution of the return was perfect.

“Everybody did their job on that return,” Shannon said. “He’s the fastest kid we have on the team when he’s running in a straight line. Jo’Vaughn can go side to side and straight ahead. Connor can’t really go side to side, but straight ahead he’s just as fast if not faster than Jo’Vaughn. So we told him, you either get up field or you’re not returning anymore. And you saw what can happen with his kind of speed when everybody does their job.”

Beebe forced a three-and-out on Greenbrier’s next drive, but failed to score as well, turning it over on downs at the Panther 40. Greenbrier got one 17-yard reception on the second play of the possession, and then converted a fourth and 6 with a 10-yard completion before falling apart.

Wyrick sacked Ross on a corner blitz for a 3-yard loss on first down from the Beebe 34. After a 5-yard pass play that made it third and 8, Greenbrier got back-to-back illegal procedure penalties and threw incomplete to set up fourth and 18. Beebe pressured Ross again, who scrambled before throwing a pass after crossing the line of scrimmage, resulting in a loss of down and a turnover.

Beebe took over on its own 48, and fullback Trip Smith did most of the work on the ensuing drive. He had one run of 27 yards, and plunged it in from 1-yard out, giving Beebe its first lead at 27-20 with 10:37 remaining in the game.

The Panthers managed just one first down on the next drive, but lost 4 yards after that. On fourth and 14, Ross, under pressure again, fumbled at the line of scrimmage where Grant Jackson covered it for the Badgers.

Beebe then went 57 yards in nine plays, chewing up five minutes of clock and scoring on a 5-yard run by Wyrick with 4:32 left in the fourth quarter.

Greenbrier then almost broke a kick return, taking it all the way to the Badger 36. Two plays later, Gordon hit Brandon Thomas for a 32-yard scoring strike that made it a one-possession game with four minutes remaining.

The Panthers tried an onside kick, but Wyrick covered it at the Beebe 48. Greenbrier jumped off sides on a big third and 1 play at the 43. Three more plays gained just 5 yards and the Badgers lined up to punt on fourth and 5 from the Greenbrier 33. It was a fake that fooled all but one Panther. Wyrick avoided that tackler and ran 33 yards down the left hash mark for the game-clinching score.

Wyrick finished with 25 carries for 213 yards and four touchdowns while Smith carried 32 times for 167 yards and a score.

Ross had a great game for Greenbrier as well, completing 27 of 43 pass attempts for four touchdowns and 347 yards. Massey had seven receptions for 107 yards to lead the Panthers.