Saturday, October 30, 2010

SPORTS>>Ricebirds overcome Jackrabbits

Leader sportswriter

Lonoke’s season of missed opportunities continued on Friday with a 16-7 road loss to Stuttgart.

In a night when the 2-4A Conference was turned even more upside down with previously unbeaten Clinton’s 28-27 loss to Heber Springs, the Jackrabbits let a halftime lead slip away in the final two quarters.

The Jackrabbits (6-3, 3-3) were up 7-3 at halftime after a one-yard touchdown run by Keli Bryant in the second quarter. The Ricebirds (5-4, 4-2) took the lead with a big pass play in the third quarter, and tacked on a touchdown run for insurance in the final period.

“We let another slip by,” Lonoke coach Doug Bost said. “They just stopped us. We had one fumble in the first half, and that was all we had. We just couldn’t get anything going.”

Stuttgart overtook Lonoke with a 15-yard play-action pass to the Ricebirds tight end mid-way through the third quarter.

With Heber Springs’ victory over Clinton and Newport’s 35-12 upset over Marianna, Lonoke, which reached the 4A state championship last year, now finds itself in a tie with Newport for fifth place in the 2-4A Conference.

Clinton still leads at 5-1, with Marianna, Heber Springs and Stuttgart all knotted in second place at 4-2.

“If we would have won, it was a sure thing to be in the playoffs,” Bost said. “With Heber winning tonight, I just don’t know. I’m not sure.

“We’ve got to come out and play next week and compete and get us a win.”

The Jackrabbits will host Clinton next week in the must-win game.

Heber Springs will play host to Cave City next week in its bid to hang on for the 2-4A Conference championship, while Stuttgart and Marianna-Lee will  have a showdown in Marianna to decide who will finish with a top-three seed.

Lonoke has to beat Clinton and hope for the Cavemen to upset the Panthers to qualify.

SPORTS>>Throwing the book at history

By todd traub
Leader sports editor

I just finished reading a great sports book.

It is also a history book, an analysis of race relations in Arkansas and a political primer, all in one.

It is titled “Carry the Rock” by Little Rock native Jay Jennings and subtitled “Race, Football and the Soul of an American City.” After finishing it, I don’t think I’ll ever need to read another history of Little Rock again in my life.

The book tells the story of Little Rock Central’s 2007 football season but, like all the best sports books (think “Seabiscuit” or “King of the World”), it places the game in a greater context.

Set against the backdrop of ceremonies honoring the “Little Rock Nine” during the anniversary of the 1957 desegregation crisis at Central, Jennings makes football the focal point but concentrically broadens his perspective.

Jennings examines the racial undertones that still cause rifts between black and white communities, and the divides are readily seen in a heated Little Rock School Board election as well as the seating choices of players and coaches at a pre-game meal.

The author traces Little Rock’s current, racial-social landscape to Arkansas’ exploration and founding — including a brief history of the rock that gave the city its name — while paralleling its development with the growth of Central football.

Jennings points out Little Rock in the early 1900s had at times taken a remarkably liberal attitude toward race — a thriving black community co-existed with the white — but he makes it clear the city was not safe from the hatreds that plagued the rest of the nation and the post Civil War South.

In a chapter focusing on 1927, Jennings recounts the murder of a white girl and the subsequent confession and conviction of a black man, which created the charged environment that led to the lynching of escaped criminal John Carter after Carter assaulted two white women.

The crimes and violence are chillingly juxtaposed with the debut of Central’s grand new building, which was more or less christened in a Halloween appearance by Metropolitan Opera singer Mary Lewis, a Little Rock native who had made good.

Jennings describes the all-white crowd of tuxedo-ed and gowned opera patrons leaving the magical performance, dispersing in cabs and trolleys safely into the city where more Halloween revelry awaited.

But it is football that is the backbone of the story, and while Jennings consistently returns to the 2007 team, having an up-and-down year under legendary former coach Bernie Cox, all the notable figures of the program and Arkansas sports in general are here: Earl Quigley, Wilson Matthews, Frank Broyles and Bill Dickey along with modern figures like Houston Nutt and Darren McFadden.

Arkansas politicians from John L. McClellan to William Fulbright to Wilbur Mills to Bill Clinton show up, as do historical figures like Charles Lindbergh, Joe McCarthy and Dwight Eisenhower. And of course, the Little Rock Nine themselves literally take center stage.

In tracing the exodus of white families from the heart of Little Rock, Jennings examines the rise of private schools — and their football teams — like Pulaski Academy in the western part of the city as well as the growth of public schools in the outlying communities of Bryant and Cabot.

In fact Cabot, which beat Bryant just over a week ago, and coach Mike Malham make a nice, extended cameo in Jennings’ book.

The 2007 Panthers beat Central during the regular season, then returned to bump the Tigers from playoff contention with a victory at Russellville.

Panthers fans will remember that standout running back Michael James, then a sophomore, bulled into the end zone with 4 seconds left to give Cabot the tiebreaker points needed to advance to the postseason and keep Central at home.

Jennings doesn’t make the mistake of falling back on terminology and lingo. His football play by play is clear and descriptive and he explains in simple terms the nuts and bolts of a specific play, offense or defense when necessary.

And his portrayal of the players is a fair and mostly affectionate account of young men as typically flawed and willing as any group of teenagers you will find.

Ultimately, “Carrying the Rock” is less a football book and more a rich history with football at its center.

As a transplanted, Yankee carpetbagger left here by the Air Force in 1990, I came away from my read with a better sense of my beloved, adopted state’s rich history, both good and bad.

I have a clearer idea now where Arkansas and Little Rock came from … and how far we still have to go.

Happy reading.

SPORTS>>Taylor’s big night big boost to Beebe

Leader sportswriter

Colby Taylor did not disappoint on Beebe’s senior night.

The Badgers senior running back tore through Nettleton’s defense on three long, breakaway touchdown runs, as Beebe remained perfect in the 5A-Southeast Conference with a 41-10 victory over the winless Raiders at A.S. “Bro” Erwin Stadium on Friday.

Taylor rushed for 305 yards and scored twice in the first half on runs of 56 and 53 yards, and saved his biggest run for the final quarter when he broke free for an 87-yard touchdown carry with 7:10 left to play, putting the Badgers up 41-3.

“I don’t know if he’s the fastest kid in the conference or not, but he’s got to be one of the fastest,” Beebe coach John Shannon said. “We feel like that if we can get him in the open space, he’s got a chance to take it to the house anytime he touches it. He did it a couple times tonight, and it was big, because we didn’t have any of those sustained drives like we like to have tonight.

“We had too many mistakes and didn’t move the chains like we needed to move them. Fortunately, for us, he’s got a little speed and was able to take two or three of them to the house, and it made the difference in the ballgame.”

Taylor’s big scoring runs broke the monotony of a strong defensive first half by both teams. His halftime numbers of 12 rushes for 165 yards made up all but 10 of Beebe’s first-half yards.

“I felt like we kind of came out flat in the first half,” Shannon said. “Really wasn’t clicking on either side of the ball very well. We picked it up in the second half and started playing a little bit better.

“We’ve had two or three real big ballgames in a row, and we were worried about a letdown..”

Nettleton, expected by many to be an early pushover, prevented Beebe from controlling the clock in the first half with a jumbo-style defense that stuffed eight defenders in the middle of the line of scrimmage. Taylor adjusted by abandoning his normal off-tackle runs by kicking outside for his scoring jaunts that spanned Nettleton’s entire side of the field.

Junior cornerback Brandon Fuller had the best night defensively for the Badgers with a pair of interceptions, including one at midfield he returned to the Raiders’ 30-yard line with 4:47 left in the third quarter. That set up a seven-play drive Michael Kirby wrapped up with a two-yard touchdown run to put the Badgers ahead 28-3.

Hunter Wyman set the Badgers up with good field position again on the ensuing kickoff when Nettleton fumbled Jordan Goss’s kick and Wyman recovered at the Nettleton 28.

Beebe quarterback Scot Gowen did not waste time cashing in with an option keep for a touchdown to extend the lead to 35-3 following the extra point by Goss.

Junior halfback Jay Holdway scored Beebe’s first touchdown of the second half with a four-yard dive run into the end zone with 8:08 left in the third quarter.

With Beebe’s victory over Nettleton and Batesville’s 18-13 triumph over Greene County Tech, the stage has been set for next week’s 5A-East finale between the Badgers and Pioneers, both unbeaten in conference play.

“We started the year with a goal in mind to win the conference championship, and we put ourselves in position to do that,” Shannon said. “We’ve got to have a great week of practice next week, and hopefully, we can go up there and compete with Batesville and have a chance late in the ballgame to win it.”

SPORTS>>Panthers outlast Pointers, get help from turnovers

By Todd traub
Leader sports editor

Cabot won a shootout at Van Buren on Friday night and kept its 7A/6A-Central Conference championship hopes alive.

Cabot took a back-and-forth, 35-28 victory, grabbing four turnovers and turning two interceptions into points. The Panthers entered the night in a three-way tie for first with Conway and Bryant.

The Panthers finish the season at home against Russellville on Thursday.

Cabot led 28-21 at halftime and shut out Van Buren in the scoreless third quarter that featured Bryson Morris’ interception for the Panthers. Cabot then played Van Buren to a 7-7 tie in the fourth quarter to hold off the Pointers.

Jeremy Berry was Cabot’s go-to back on Friday, picking up drive-sustaining first downs to finish with 229 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries.

Ian Thompson came in for Andre Ausejo, who has gotten more playing time in place of injured Spencer Smith, and carried 24 times for 104 yards and one touchdown. Mason Haley had five carries for 45 yards and a touchdown.

Quarterback Zach Craig was 3 of 5 for 84 yards, including a 23-yard touchdown pass to Rod Quinn.

The Panthers finished with 576 total yards as the teams combined for more than 1,000.

Spoon was 18 of 33 for 306 yards and two touchdowns to go with the three interceptions and major college prospect Drew White had over 100 yards receiving.

Things looked bad for the Panthers when the Pointers’ Joseph Snapp returned the opening kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown. After a defensive stop, Van Buren was driving again when Zack Brown intercepted Spoon in the end zone.

Haley later tied it on a 16-yard run.

Van Buren went back in front when Spoon completed a 16-yard pass to Jacob Eason in the second quarter.

Cabot, which has had one turnover the past three games after averaging between 3-4 a game during the first part of the season, had its lone fumble of the night. But Greg Phelps intercepted Spoon and the Panthers drove for Ian Thompson’s five-yard touchdown run that made it 14-14.

SPORTS>>Lady Devils exit tourney

By Jason king
Leader sportswriter

BENTON — Jacksonville’s strong start did not hold up against the Texarkana Lady Razorbacks in the first round of the 6A state volleyball tournament Tuesday.

The Lady Red Devils led early in the first two games before the Lady ’Backs took control of the match to win 3-1 and move on to the second round.

Texarkana came from behind to beat Jacksonville 25-17 in the first game before Jacksonville senior Sierra Davis helped the Lady Red Devils establish the lead again in Game 2 with a string of three consecutive kills.

This time, they held on to the advantage with help from junior Haley Hickingbotham late to win 25-20.

The Lady Razorbacks picked it up for Game 3 and took a 25-13 victory before things fell apart for the Lady Red Devils (7-9) in the final game and Texarkana won 25-5.

“We’ve done a lot of things good,” Jacksonville coach Melissa Reeves said. “Of course, we’re not happy with that last game — we’re not sure what happened — but overall, with everything the kids have gone through, I’m very proud of them. I can’t say enough about them.

“I’m sad for the seniors, but I’m very proud. Our underclassmen, like we told them, this is a learning moment. We will be back, and we will compete next year.”

Defensive player Amanda Simmons gave the Lady Razorbacks (22-10) a boost at the service line in the final game on a string of serves that included three aces and took Texarkana from a 3-1 lead to 11-1 by the time Hickingbotham stepped up for a kill to end the run.

“We had way too sluggish of a start,” Texarkana coach Angela Moody said. “We needed that first game; it just takes us some time to work our nerves out. The older girls just started doing what they needed to — talking a little more lively, keeping the ball in play.”

Jonesboro eliminated Texarkana 3-0 in Wednesday’s quarterfinal round.

Jacksonville controlled the tempo throughout Game 2. Davis blocked Texarkana’s Dulincia Keener to tie the game at 3-3.

The senior then scored three straight kills to give the Lady Red Devils a 6-3 lead.

Classmate Tyler Pickett chipped in with a kill to make it 8-6 and scored two aces later to extend the lead to 13-9.

Pickett also set up Hickingbotham with assists on a pair of kills, with a block from Hickingbotham in between to make it 16-12.

Katie Lawrence and Coyja Hood scored late kills to help Jacksonville secure the victory.

Jacksonville also led early in the third game, but Texarkana went on a 10-3 run midway through and held off a late stand at the net by Davis.

“What we had heard is that they compare to some of the teams in our conference,” Reeves said of Texarkana.

“So we prepared that way. We played three great games; we just shut down that fourth game. No excuses — Texarkana came ready to play.

“Once again, I’m proud of where we’ve come and how we finished.”

Despite Jacksonville’s loss, the 6A-East Conference showed its dominance in the first round.

Texarkana was the only 6A-South team to win its first-round game, while Lake Hamilton and Benton advanced on byes.

Lake Hamilton fell to Van Buren, a 7A/6A hybrid team listed as the East No. 4 seed.

Mountain Home defeated host Benton in five games Wednesday to set up the all-East semifinals that included East No. 1 seed Marion. 

SPORTS>>Blue Devils bump Red Devils

By todd traub
Leader sports editor

Jacksonville closed the gap on West Memphis, just not all the way Friday night.

West Memphis set itself up for a 7A/6A-East Conference championship while denying Jacksonville its chance with a 37-13 victory at Jan Crow Stadium.

West Memphis beat Jacksonville 42-0 last year and seemed on its way to another rout with a 21-0 halftime lead. But under first-year coach Rick Russell, the Red Devils came back for two second-half scores, one on Kenny Cummings’ 52-yard fumble return, to at least make a fight of it.

“We were going for a conference championship, that’s what we’ve said all year long and they’re sad that didn’t happen tonight,” Russell said.

“But I’ll tell you what, right now we’re going to take care of Marion and get the highest seed that we can possibly get and then go into the playoffs thinking anything can happen in the 6A.”

Jacksonville is already assured of at least a playoff game, probably a home game and maybe more heading into the finale at Marion.

“Based on the points you’re never 100 percent sure but I’m 99 percent sure we’ll have a home playoff game,” Russell said. “Depending on what we do next week and depending on the season we might even have a bye.”

West Memphis was moved to 7A in the last round of Arkansas Activities Association reclassification and will compete in the 7A playoffs, but under the current alignment competes in the 7A/6A-East and can earn power rating points for a conference title.

“We have a chance to be conference champs, it’s a big deal,” West Memphis coach Lanny Dauksch said.

Whether playing in 6A or 7A, West Memphis has been a force the past several years, averaging 10 victories a season and making regular trips to the postseason.

With that in mind, Russell was pleased with the way the Red Devils (6-3, 4-2) hung in with the Blue Devils, who played most if not all of their starters right up until quarterback Aaron Collins took a knee with two seconds left to run out the clock.

“They’ve always been on the borderline,” Russell said of West Memphis’ swing between 6A and 7A. “And it’s just a dadgum shame the Triple A wouldn’t stick to their guns and put the top 16 in 7A and the next 16 in 6A. You could tell.

“But you could tell our kids had a lot of heart.”

West Memphis led 21-0 at halftime with help from a trick play just before halftime and built that to 29-0 on Quintin Sparkman’s 10-yard run and D.J. Alverson’s conversion with 4:14 left in the third quarter.

Jacksonville’s D’Vone McClure returned the kickoff 18 yards to the Red Devils 28 and scored behind the passing of Logan Perry, who was 5 for 5 on the possession for 73 yards.

Perry completed consecutive passes of four, two and 21 yards, then completed his fourth straight 37 yards to Jamison Williams for the touchdown that cut it to 29-7 with 53 seconds left in the period.

Perry was gunning for McClure when Sparkman intercepted and returned it 57 yards for West Memphis’ final score that, with the conversion, made it 37-7 with 6:46 to go in the game.

Jacksonville’s last touchdown came when Cummings forced and scooped up Deondre Curtis’ fumble and ran it down the right sideline with 3:40 to go.

“We’ve always had trouble over here,” Dauksch said. “I think one time we had an easy time and every other time it’s been a battle. It’s great to be able to win against a good team.”

The first quarter was a scoreless, defensive slugfest in which West Memphis didn’t grab the game’s first, first down until Sparkmon fought for a six-yard gain to the Jacksonville 25 with under 2:30 left in the period.

The drive began at the Jacksonville 40 thanks to Deontae Mitchell’s 27-yard punt return. The Blue Devils marched to the Red Devils 6, then Deondre Curtis scored on a double reverse and made it 6-0, after the conversion run failed, with 11:49 left in the half.

Friday, October 29, 2010

TOP STORY > >Candidates’ final pitch?

By garrick feldman
Leader executive editor

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, who is winding down her Senate campaign far behind Rep. John Boozman, stopped by the Bar-B-Que Shack on Wednesday for the Jacksonville Lions Club meeting, shaking hands and making a last-ditch effort to salvage her troubled political career.

“I work very hard for you,” said Lincoln, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee and should be a shoo-in in a normal year since she has channeled hundreds of millions of dollars to Arkansas farmers, Little Rock Air Force Base and scores of other projects.

They were called pork, and every politician worth his salt used to brag about their ability to bring home the bacon. Even Boozman, her Republican opponent who is expected to win big on Tuesday, would send out press releases about the projects he funded for his district in northwest Arkansas.

He says there will be no special appropriations if he’s elected because the voters want smaller and leaner government—even if Arkansas rakes in hundreds of millions of dollars more than it sends to Washington.

Former state Rep. Mike Wilson was standing in the back of the room at the Lions Club meeting when Lincoln arrived. He was shaking his head, a little stunned, that voters would reject someone like Blanche, who’s pumped a lot of dough into the farm economy, including the White River water project at Des Arc and the Bayou Meto project at Scott.

Citing Lincoln’s chairmanship of the agriculture committee, Wilson turned to a reporter and said, “For a state that depends on agriculture, it would be insane to give that up, not to mention what she has done for the air base.”

Lincoln told the club she was the youngest woman elected to the Senate — that was in 1998, when she was 38 — and the second-youngest woman to get on the finance committee.

She’s 50 now, trying to win a third term, and the odds seem insurmountable.

Lincoln, who survived a bruising primary fight with Lieut. Gov. Bill Halter, said she tried to find a middle way in the Senate, but everybody has been beating up on her. A senator told her, “You probably had the hardest year of anybody here. You got it from both sides.”

She said Boozman’s national sales-tax plan would mean “a tax increase for 95 percent of Arkansans.” He would imperil Social Security if he pushed for privatization, she said.

Lincoln, who has campaigned 12 hours a day in recent weeks, hasn’t managed to close the gap with Boozman all year, and there are moments when her voice trails and listeners suspect she has accepted the inevitable.

Lincoln wasn’t the only woman campaigning in the area this week. State Sen. Joyce Elliott, who is fighting an uphill battle against Tim Griffin for Congress in the Second District, was at Camp Robinson on Thursday morning, then visited Jacksonville Towers, which is home to hundreds of seniors.

Lincoln and Elliott trail their opponents by about 20 points, but Elliott seems the most optimistic.

“I’d be surprised if we don’t win on Tuesday,” she told us, smiling.

She said she’s had good receptions in the outlying areas of the district, from Perryville to Morrilton to Beebe. 

People have offered to campaign for her, she said, but Griffin is the better-financed candidate and will win easily.

These two bright women should have coasted to victory, but it will be all guys representing Arkansas in Washington.