Wednesday, November 01, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Jackrabbits’ goal is to win by seven

Leader sports editor

Five teams make the playoffs from the 4A-2 Conference, and Lonoke can either get the four seed, five seed or stay home, depending on what happens Thursday in Searcy and West Helena.

The short of it is, well there is no short of it if Lonoke wins. The Jackrabbits end the regular season this Thursday at Riverview. Lonoke has to win that game to have any chance at making the playoffs, but even a win doesn’t guarantee them a spot. A lot also depends on the outcome and margin of Heber Springs trip to Helena-West Helena Central.

The best-case scenario for Lonoke would be to beat Riverview by at least seven points, and for Heber Springs to beat Central. That would cause a three-way tie for the last two playoffs slots. It would also drop Central as low team in tiebreaker points, and give Lonoke the four seed for its head-to-head win over Riverview.

If Lonoke wins by fewer than seven points, it is out because that would be low team in points.

If a Lonoke win over Riverview accompanies a Central win over Heber Springs, it’s just a two-way tie for fifth place, and Lonoke would get in based on its head-to-head win over Riverview.

“I would think Heber Springs should beat Helena, so we need to win by seven,” said Lonoke coach Taggart Moore. “You never know for sure in this conference, though. Strange things happen.”

One of those strange things that happened was Lonoke’s 6-0 loss when it traveled to West Helena, and it is still having a major impact on playoff hopes.

The Jackrabbit defense held the Cougars to four touchdowns fewer than their average of 32 points per conference game. But the offense couldn’t get into the end zone against a defense that has given up 31 points per conference game not against Lonoke.

That game was three weeks ago, and Moore believes his team has made some progress offensively since then, and has he’s liked his defense all season.

“I thought we really took some steps forward in the second half of the Heber game,” Moore said. “That game with Helena, that was just a weird, weird game. Since then I think we’ve moved the ball pretty well. We Xavier Hodge back from his injury and he’s gotten into the flow of things. Our problem has been turnovers. If we take care of the football, I think we can do some things on offense to take advantage of the way they play defense. They fly around and just go. They don’t really do a lot of reads. I think we can do some things with our option stuff that hopefully will put is in good situations.”

The Lonoke defense has been solid all season long. Even in last week’s 46-6 loss to Stuttgart, the defense played well. Two of the Ricebirds’ touchdowns were scored by their defense. Another couple were on short fields due to turnovers, and two others were on short fields after on-side kicks – one of which was accidental and lucky.

“I’m extremely confident in our defense,” Moore said. “We just have to move the ball and put them in better positions. But those guys play with a swagger. I really do enjoy watching them.”

The defense will need to be good again on Thursday. Riverview (6-3, 3-3) is averaging nearly 35 points per game.

The Raiders’ games with the three teams tied for first (Stuttgart, Heber Springs and Southside-Batesville) are similar to Lonoke’s. The glaring difference in common opponents is Central. Riverview beat the Cougar 35-26.

“I think we actually match up pretty well with them,” Moore said. “It’s probably going to come down to the team that executes and makes the fewest mistakes.”