Wednesday, September 06, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Old rivals square off again

Leader sports editor

Rivalries grow richer with time, and the Beebe vs. Lonoke football rivalry is one of the longest-lasting ones in the state. It resumes at 7 p.m. Friday at James B. Abraham Stadium in Lonoke. The Badgers won last year, but it was the first Beebe win in four years as Lonoke handled the Badgers in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Last year’s Beebe win, however, was a 49-7 blowout, and left a bad feeling in the pit of some Jackrabbits’ stomachs.

Two Lonoke starters got hurt on the opening kickoff of that game, further dwindling an already shallow roster, and the drubbing was on.

“We’ve beat them three of my four years here, but last year they got us,” said Lonoke coach Taggart Moore. “Two of our starters went down. Those guys are back and they definitely remember it and have some hard feelings about it. They’ve been waiting a full year for this week.”

Beebe coach John Shannon’s team doesn’t have the revenge factor, but he doesn’t think any added motivation is needed for the annual Week 2 rivalry game.

“To the communities themselves it’s huge because it’s bragging rights for a whole year,” said Shannon. “I’ve had people, 60-plus years old, tell me this is the week they look forward to every year. We’ve got two coaches whose wives teach at Lonoke, people in each town who have known each other for decades, a lot of the kids know each other. It’s more than just a football game. It’s divided households and old friends wanting bragging rights for the year.”

Both teams enter this year’s matchup off big wins in their respective season openers. Lonoke steamrolled Carlisle, another old rivalry that was renewed last year after several years off, taking a 35-0 halftime lead to invoke the mercy rule and winning 42-6.

Beebe overcame an 18-7 halftime deficit to defeat Greenbrier 26-18.

One thing seemed certain to Shannon.

“They’re a lot better team than they were last year,” Shannon said. “They have more depth for one thing. Their numbers look like they’re way up. They’re definitely more physical. That running back (Xavier Hodge), no one from Carlisle could tackle him. The quarterback looks like he runs well. He was pretty accurate throwing the ball. Didn’t see them try anything deep, but he was on target in their short passing game. And they have a receiver they get it to in space (Braidon Bryant) who looks like he’s hard to get a handle on.”

Bryant was one of the players injured on the kickoff of last year’s game. Injuries have played a role in each of the last two games. The last time the game was played at Lonoke in 2015, Beebe’s 1,000-yard running back JoVaughan Wyrick suffered a broken leg that ended his season and career.

His younger brother, Kahlil Anthony, is now the starting fullback for Beebe, and he had a tremendous game last week. Anthony carried 20 carries for 187 yards and two touchdowns.

His touchdown run of 56 yards came out of what Shannon is calling the Spread T, a slightly spread out version of his usual Dead-T offense.

“It’s basically the same plays just run from the shotgun formation with a couple of wideouts,” Shannon said. “It just helps us keep teams from loading the box and gives our running backs a little more room. You send a guy out wide they have to send somebody out there to guard him. It’s’ nothing fancy.”

But it’s still trying to prepare for that Dead-T that causes opposing coaches the most trouble.

“That offense is hard to duplicate,” said Moore. “How big they are, how hard they hit, how low they came off, it’s all just very hard to duplicate in practice. I told the guys this, the years we’ve beat them are the years we’ve had scout teams that have done really well with that and prepared us for them. Now they’re running some Spread, got a talented quarterback. I think they had about nine sophomores starting last year and got all those guys back. It’s going to be a big challenge.”

Shannon thought his team was the more physical one against Greenbrier, but he expects Lonoke to be more physical than the Panthers, too. Moore definitely liked how his team handled the Bison.

“We went into the game wanting to control the line of scrimmage on both sides, and we did that,” Moore said. “We should do that. We’re 4A and they’re 2A. But we told the kids we wanted it to be over by halftime, and it was over in the second quarter. We’re definitely more physical. We noticed it just in the way we’ve been preparing. We don’t do anything light anymore.”

Moore isn’t a native of Lonoke like Shannon is of Beebe, but this is his fifth year at the school and he has developed some knowledge of the rivalry.

“For people here, I don’t know if it’s as big as the Carlisle game, but it’s a big rivalry,” Moore said. “It seems like every year, the team that wins it goes on to have a good season. So every year it’s a big one for us. We expect a packed house. It’s going to be a brawl, I think.”