Saturday, November 07, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Jackrabbits climb back

Special to The Leader

SEARCY – The Lonoke Jackrabbits completed a remarkable turnaround to a dismal start to conference play on Thursday, beating the Riverview Raiders 38-21 and qualifying for the five seed in the playoffs from the 4A-2 Conference. In the win-or-go-home matchup, Lonoke came through with several big plays to keep its season alive.

They will travel to Gosnell next Friday for its first-round playoff game.

With the threat of severe weather moving in and penalty flags flying everywhere, it was Lonoke who scored first and last in the game. The Jackrabbits won three of their last four games, finishing the regular season with an overall record of 5-5 and a conference record of 3-4.

“We’ve had our backs against the wall the last few weeks,” said Lonoke coach Doug Bost. “We said, ‘hey, we got to win this one, we got to win this one, we got to get some help from some other teams that have got to get beat. And we got to keep winning,’ and they were able to do that and were able to get themselves in the playoffs. I’m proud of their effort, just real proud of them.

“It was a struggle early. We turned the ball over on offense more than we needed to. I thought the defense played good. In the first half, they kept us in there. But then we got a little of a rhythm in the second with our offense able to sustain some drives and run the ball right at them and able to hit a big touchdown right there from Will (Miller) to Justin (Meadows), which was real big. That really opened it up for us.”

Riverview had the first possession of the game, and the Raiders went three-and-out.

Lonoke turned the ball over by way of a fumble on the 10th play of its first drive, but Riverview fumbled it right back. The Raider fumble was picked up by Juwaun Bryant, who eluded tacklers and took the ball 41 yards for the touchdown. The two-point conversion was no good, but the Jackrabbits had the 6-0 lead with 6:35 remaining in the opening quarter.

Riverview’s next possession ended on an interception by Deondray Joyner, who returned the ball 45 yards to the 25-yard line of the Raiders. Lonoke could not convert, but pinned Riverview on the 6-yard line with a punt. After a 4-yard gain on first down, quarterback David Lee connected with Kirby Keeney for a 90-yard touchdown. The extra point gave the Raiders a 7-6 advantage.

After Casey Martin returned the ensuing kickoff to midfield, the Jackrabbits moved down the field largely on runs by Xavier Hodge, who finished the drive with a 3-yard plunge into the end zone, and Lonoke regained the lead, 12-7, with 11:56 to go in the second period.

The Raiders took the lead back with 19 seconds remaining in the half, but then gave the ball to Lonoke on its own 43-yard line on the kickoff. One play was all it took for Justin Meadows to move the 57 yards into the end zone. The two-point conversion was good by Hodge for a 20-14 Jackrabbit lead at the half.

That lead grew quickly in the second half when Meadows returned the opening kickoff 90 yards for another touchdown to put Lonoke ahead 26-14.

Riverview responded, though, moving 71 yards to score with 6:52 remaining in the third to cut the lead to 26-21. The Raiders then recovered an onside kick, but the Lonoke defense forced a punt.

The Jackrabbits’ next score came with 8:55 remaining in the final quarter. Quarterback Will Miller found Meadows for a 52-yard touchdown pass to expand the lead to 32-21. The two-point conversion again was no good.

After turning the ball over on downs, Riverview forced a punt by Lonoke. The punt was partially blocked by the Raiders, but was recovered by Lonoke in first-down territory.

That led to another Jackrabbit score, this time a 43-yard drive, capped by a 3-yard run by Josh Coleman. Again the two-point conversion was unsuccessful, setting the final score at 38-21 with 1:33 remaining on the clock.

Lonoke finished the game with 268 rushing yards and 52 yards passing, while the Raiders finished with 347 total yards.

Hodge led the Jackrabbits in rushing with 94 yards on 18 carries and one touchdown. Meadows rushed for 69 yards and one touchdown, plus the 52-yard touchdown reception and the 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Coleman added 63 yards on 15 carries and one touchdown.