Tuesday, November 03, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Playoffs hang in balance for Rabs, Raiders

Leader sports editor

The Lonoke Jackrabbits are on the cusp of turning around a season that at one point looked like it was turning into a disaster. After losing their first three conference games, the Jackrabbits have won two of their last three, and can make the playoffs with a win this Thursday at Riverview. Lonoke coach Doug Bost is expecting a tough game from the Raiders, who are also one win away from making the playoffs for the first time as a member of the 4A classification.

“The winner plays Gosnell in the first round of the state tournament,” said Bost. “The loser is finished for the year. Both teams have a lot to play for, so it’s going to be a tough one.”

An already small team suffered six significant injuries that started piling up in week three. Lonoke started the season with a bang, beating Class 4A’s third-ranked team Star City on the road, then beating Class 5A’s third-ranked Beebe Badgers at home.

Next up was McClellan, and the first and perhaps most damaging injury of the season took place in the first quarter when senior Justin Meadows suffered a shoulder injury on defense.

Since then, two-way starter Logan Dozier has missed five games and starting quarterback Savonte Rountree’s season ended with an injury against CAC in week seven. Lonoke has also lost a starting linebacker and two starting linemen.

After a 32-16 loss to McClellan, Lonoke opened conference play with losses to Heber Springs, Newport and Southside-Batesville.

“It’s been up and down,” Bost said. “We feel like with Meadows in there we beat Heber Springs, but we lost by one. Then we turn it over four times against Southside and lose that one. Then we protect the ball and get a win at Helena, and the defense just played lights out against Stuttgart and we got us a win there. Hopefully we can continue to piece it together and play well.”

Meadows played his first complete game since week two in last Friday’s win over Stuttgart. Dozier will be back for the first time in six weeks on Thursday. Will Miller played quarterback in last week’s win, and he and Dozier have taken snaps in preparation for the regular-season finale.

Senior Josh Coleman started the year at fullback but has moved to the slot, and sophomore Xavier Hodge has had four-straight 100-yard rushing games since taking over for Coleman at fullback. Casey Martin moved from receiver to slot when Meadows was hurt, and has since moved back to his original position.

“We’ve had running backs moving to slot, slots moving to receiver and receivers moving to slot,” Bost said. “We’ve just had to piece things together and the kids have done a great job of doing whatever we ask of them.

“Xavier Hodge has been a great spark plug for us. He was nowhere on the radar at the start of the season. We felt like we had a bunch of good skill guys and that’s why we went to this offense, to get all those guys out there. But you lose a guy here, you move your back to slot, then his backup gets hurt; you just have to keep going down the list. And he’s stepped in and done a great job.”

Riverview moved up from Class 3A last year and was not very competitive. It’s a tradition-rich basketball school, but many of those athletes that had before specialized in basketball, came out for football this season, and the Raiders have improved dramatically.

“Riverview is not the same team as last year,” Bost said. “They have a lot of speed. Their offense is about 70 percent pass and they really sling it around out there. Our defense played great last week and it’s going to take another great effort this week.”