Saturday, September 24, 2011

SPORTS>>Lady Bears earn first win

Leader sportswriter

It took coming from behind in all three games, but the Sylvan Hills Lady Bears swept 5A-Southeast Conference rival Beebe 25-20, 25-20, 25-19 at Badger Sports Arena on Tuesday to claim their first league victory of the season.

The Lady Badgers (2-6, 1-3) took early leads in each of the three games, but could not hold off Sylvan Hills once they seized momentum halfway through the sets. The Lady Bears (4-8, 1-4) erased an early 5-1 deficit in the first game, and rallied after trailing 5-2 in Game 2. Beebe held a narrow lead through the first half of the final set until Lady Bears junior Val Jarrett closed out the match with a strong performance at the service line with two aces and a couple of force-outs against the Lady Badgers.

“We needed tonight,” Lady Bears coach Harold Treadway said. “We needed a win in the worst way. The girls responded well. Beebe is a good team – they are a scrappy team.”

Beebe junior hitter Stephanie Pollnow put her superior size to good use throughout the match for the Lady Badgers with a game-high eight kills and three blocks, with five kills and two blocks coming in the final game.

A new strategy and look on the court paid off for the Lady Bears. Treadway and assistant coach Laura Allred have experimented with the lineup, moving senior setter Darrin Flippo to a back-row position and putting sophomore Michelle Sorensen in her spot. Another sophomore, K.K. Fulton, was also assigned to the libero spot, marking the first time Sylvan Hills has gone with a true libero.

The middle and back support worked, giving senior hitter Zaneb Rehman and Jarrett the green light to play aggressively at the net. Rehman responded with four blocks, including back-to-back blocks at the end of the second game, while Jarrett had four kills and three aces. Rehman also had three kills.

“She’s really worked hard,” Treadway said of Rehman. “Her blocks are okay, but when she gets her hits, they’re awesome too.”

It was Beebe sophomore Madison Richey who made the most noise at the net early on with thee blocks in Game 1. But as Rehman got hot for the Lady Bears midway through the second game, she was able to cancel Richey out, leaving it up to Pollnow to try and make plays for Beebe from the right side.

“We worked on a lot of different stuff this week, and I saw it in spurts,” Lady Badgers coach Ashley Camp said. “We come up, and then we loose three points the same way. We do not have the ball control we need, and that’s what’s killing us. And our over passes are killing us.”

Camp was particularly pleased with the leadership shown by junior setter Morgan Henry during the match.

While Henry served as on-court general, Pollnow served as the spark plug for the Lady Badgers with a series of solid smashes, followed by spirited celebrations following successful kills.

“We’re working on a lot of stuff with her,” Camp said of Pollnow. “Running slides, and she jump-served tonight for the first time. She did pretty well with that – it’s not aggressive yet, but consistency is what we’re going for right now.”

Beebe held the lead through the first half of Game 2, and held on down the stretch with a kill by senior Lesslie Colbert that put them up 17-15, and a kill by Richey that was assisted by Henry gave the Lady Badgers a slim 18-17 advantage. But Ashton Williams tied the game for Sylvan Hills with a kill, and Flippo followed with an ace to give the Lady Bears the lead for the first time, 19-18.

Rehman gave Sylvan Hills game point with two key blocks, and senior Mallory Rushin finished it off for the Lady Bears with a kill from the left side.

“I thought that late in the second game and late in the third game, we stopped their adjustments,” Treadway said. “They started dinking the ball – tipping it over. They went to a back-row attack and stayed off the front row quite a bit. But our back row picked it up and gave us a chance.”

SPORTS>>Beebe runs over Rams in 5A East road game

Leader sportswriter

The Beebe Badgers scored early and often in a mercy ruled 54-26 victory at Paragould to open 5A East Conference play on the good side of the win column.

It was a good night for sophomore fullback Eric Thorn, who punished the Rams’ defense with 185 rushing yards on just 13 carries, three of which went for touchdowns.

“Our offense played really well tonight,” Badgers coach John Shannon said. “Paragould, hats off to them, their offense was improved, and they moved the ball tonight. It was a breakout game for Eric Thorn, he finally carried for over a hundred yards, and of course, Jay (Holdway) was solid as usual. The offensive line played well. Overall, I was pleased.”

Holdway had five carries the entire night, but made the most of his totes with 71 yards and two touchdowns, one of which went 49 yards.

Senior quarterback Dustin Stallnacker had five rushes for 72 yards and three touchdowns. Stallnacker scored on a 32-yard touchdown run, another for 23 yards and another for 11 yards.

The Badgers (3-1, 1-0) took a 21-7 lead through one quarter and held a 41-12 advantage at the half. Beebe scored twice more in the third quarter to activate the sportsmanship clock rule before the Rams scored two more times late.

“The defense has been playing really well up until tonight,” Shannon said. “We did well in the second half – I can’t explain why we didn’t in the first half. You just have nights like that sometimes.”

The Badgers finished with 380 yards on 23 total rushes, and scored eight times while acquiring only five first downs. The Rams (0-4, 0-1) had 328 total yards with 43 carries for 292 yards, and also completed 2 of 7 pass attempts for 36 yards.

SPORTS>>Rival gives Cabot third consecutive loss Friday

Leader sportswriter

Conway senior quarterback Tyler Langley utilized the great protection he received from his offensive line to zap Cabot’s secondary for over 300 yards, as the Wampus Cats blistered the Panthers 37-7 at Panther Stadium on Friday.

Langley completed 18 of 28 passes for 316 yards and two touchdowns, while senior running backs Cordarius Irby and Corven Alexander combined for another 148 yards and two scores to open 7A-Central Conference play on an impressive note. Conway (3-1, 1-0) failed to score only twice in its eight possessions, and while the Panthers controlled the clock, particularly in the second half, they came up short on a pair of trips into Conway’s red zone.

“We mistaked ourselves out of a couple of scores,” Panthers coach Mike Malham said. “We’re just not doing the right things, because we feel like defensively, we did not slow them down. Their skill people made us look bad in open space. I don’t know what to do about that, but offensively, we get down there and have mistakes.”

The Panthers (1-3, 0-1) had a chance to close the margin to one score trailing 21-7 with 2:47 left to play in the first half, but on fourth-and-3 from the Conway 11-yard line, senior quarterback Zach Craig lost his pitch man on an option-left play.

That resulted in a two-yard loss and a turnover on downs, and the Wampus Cats capitalized with a drive to end the half that resulted in a 27-yard field goal by senior Ivan Pelayo.

“I’ve said all along that if Tyler has time to set his feet and throw, he’s going to get the ball where it needs to be,” Conway coach Clint Ashcraft said. “The thing I’m seeing now out of Tyler is that he’s making plays with his feet. If they do a good job in coverage, he can run. He got some big first downs tonight running the football.”

The Wampus Cats were the model of consistency early on offensively. Their first scoring drive on the opening possession went 74 yards in eight plays in 2:28; their second went 73 yards in eight plays in 2:24.

Brandon Cox and Rashad Shepherd got the majority of the looks from Langley for Conway. Cox caught seven passes for 139 yards and a score, while Shepherd had seven catches for 105 yards and a touchdown.

Cox’s end-zone reception in the front left corner to put the ’Cats up 21-7 with 11:51 left in the first half was especially hard for Cabot fans to swallow. The Panthers had just pulled to within a score at 14-7 with an eight play, 62-yard drive that ended with a 25-yard touchdown rush by senior halfback Mason Haley, but Conway answered in just six plays, and increased its advantage for the balance.

“We’re just going through some growing pains right now,” Malham said. “But it’s not from a lack of effort – they’re trying, and it’s a little frustrating right now, but we’re just going to keep working. That’s all you can do.”

Cabot let another scoring opportunity slip from its grasp when a drive that ate nearly eight minutes off the clock and went 74 yards ended on fourth and goal when senior halfback Weston Conard was stopped less than a foot from the goal line.

“Those are big,” Ashcraft said. “And I told our coaches I didn’t care that they drove the ball that far. The point is, a lot of time went off the clock, we’ve got the lead, and they didn’t score. That was big for us to bow up down there when the field got short.”

Conway put the game out of reach for the most part with 6:54 left in the third when Colin Fluesmeier scored on a three-yard run from the Wildcat formation, and Alexander capped off the scoring for Conway with a nine-yard touchdown run inside four minutes.

The Wampus Cats finished with 508 yards. For Cabot, Haley carried 10 times for 74 yards, junior fullback Ian Thompson rushed 18 times for 70 yards and Conard had 13 carries for 61 yards. The Panthers had 328 total yards.

The Panthers will see another prolific passing attack next week when they travel to War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock to face Little Rock Catholic. The Rockets lost their league opener to Bryant in a 45-35 shootout on Friday.

“Defensively, the pass has killed us all year,” Malham said. “I don’t know, we’re just not getting the job done. We’ve got young kids – they’re inexperienced. They’re working hard, but when that other guy across from you is faster and quicker than you in open space, it shows.

“We will keep working, and we will get better. It’s tough, but there will be a better day, that’s for sure.”

SPORTS>>Bison cruise past Mustangs

Leader sports editor

The Carlisle Bison ran into very little resistance against their open range companions on Friday, easily cruising through the Marvell Mustangs 55-8 at Fred C. Hardke Stadium. The game was over quickly. Carlisle led 39-0 with 1:31 left in the first quarter, and the starters sat the rest of the game.

We came out in the first quarter wanting to execute and look sharp,” Carlisle coach Scott Waymire said. “We wanted to get our starters out as quick as possible and we did that, so I’m pleased with that. I’m really pleased with the way the kids played. Our first, second and third guys all did a good job.”

Marvell got the ball first and went three plays to its only real playmaker, quarterback Octavius Holiday. Holiday was only able to gain six yards and the Mustangs punted.

By the time Marvell ran two more plays, it trailed 24-0.

Carlisle went 37 yards in four plays on its first drive. It was Braxton Petrus for 11 yards, Ty Vaughn for four, Deron Ricks went 14 and Vaughn finished it off with the last eight and the score. The Bison got an accidental onside kick recovery when Marvell failed to fall on a shanked kickoff. On the second play of that drive, Petrus went 38 yards for the score. The Mustangs first pass attempt fell into the hands of Carlisle’s Austin Reed, giving the Bison the ball on their own 38. From there it took just two plays. Sophomore Bo Weddle went 33 yards to the Marvell 29. Ricks got the rest with 6:24 left in the opening quarter.

Marvell went for it on fourth down on its next drive and failed. That gave Carlisle the ball at its own 40. Petrus got 30 on the first play of the drive. Hart hit Vaughn on a swing pass for the final 10 with 4:02 left in the first quarter. After another four-and-out by Marvell, the Bison took over at the Mustang 30. After one incomplete pass, Hart found sophomore receiver Justice Bryant in the flat. Bryant broke three tackles and plowed into the end zone with 1:31 left in the first.

The Bison offensive backups took over on the Marvell 42 and drove that distance in seven plays. Reed got the final four yards with 3:11 left in the half. Ricks’ extra point made it 46-0.

The Bison second string had trouble with a couple of snaps, but still drove 37 yards in nine plays for another score. This time it was a 27-yard field goal by Ricks that made it 49-0 with four minutes left in the third quarter. Marvell got another first down on its next drive, but on fourth and six, a high snap went backwards 18 yards, setting the Bison up at the Mustang 19.

After an initial false start penalty, Carlisle needed three plays to go 24 yards with senior Ryleigh Cunningham plunging it in from two yards out, making it 55-0 with 5:38 left in the game.

Marvell finally got on the board when Holiday broke loose on the first play of the next drive and ran 66 yards for a touchdown.

Carlisle compiled 331 total yards to 105 for Marvell. Carlisle improved to 4-0, and host Clarendon next Friday.

SPORTS>>Devils stop Bombers

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Red Devils turned in their best performance to date Friday night, going on the road and shutting out Mountain Home 27-0 to earn their second straight win and open 6A East Conference play with a big victory.

Mountain Home sophomore quarterback Drake Walker had dominated in the Bombers first three games of the season and led the team to its first 3-0 start in school history.

Jacksonville was not intimidated, and shut down the sophomore phenom, holding him to 11 completions in 29 attempts for just 89 yards and two interceptions.

Jacksonville coach Rick Russell said the key to the game was the early pressure on Walker.

“We saw on film that nobody really tried to put a lot of pressure on him,” Russell said. “We wanted to do that because he’s a sophomore. We were able to get pressure on him early. Michael Thornabar got a really good hit on him in the first quarter. We were able to get him out of rhythm and took him out of the game as a running threat.”

Conversely, Jacksonville quarterback Tirrell Brown had his best game so far. Brown completed 15 of 24 attempts for 242 yards and a touchdown.

The two teams traded a few possessions early in the game, but Jacksonville finally got the scoring started when senior Dvone McClure ran five yards with 2:12 left in the first. A failed fake extra point attempt left it 6-0.

Jacksonville got a break on its second score. The Red Devils drove down the field and had first and goal at the 6-yard line. Cortez Brown picked up two yards, but fumbled into the end zone where junior lineman Carter Grandison covered it for the touchdown.

Another missed extra point made it 12-0 with 3:46 left in the second quarter, and that’s how it stayed until halftime.

The Bombers got it to start the second half, but another defensive stand gave Jacksonville the ball back, and the Devils went right to work.

Jacksonville thought it had scored immediately when McClure took a screen pass to the right side back across the field for a 64-yard touchdown, but the play was called back for an illegal block.

It was still a good thing for the Jacksonville coaching staff to see McClure’s speed returning after his injury against Benton.

“To see him cutting back against the grain and out running people was nice to see,” Russell said. “He’s still not at full speed, but he showed a lot of progress tonight. That was a pretty severe sprain.”

Jacksonville had to punt after the penalty and Mountain Home mishandled it.

Jacksonville covered on the Bomber 37 and went that distance in just three more plays. All three were completions by Brown. The first and last of which were to McClure, whose 10-yard reception and the ensuing extra point made it 19-0 with 5:17 left in the third quarter.

A little over halfway through the fourth quarter, Jacksonville’s defense got on the board. A Brown punt pinned the Bombers on their own 1-yard line.

On the first play of the drive, the entire Red Devil defensive interior penetrated the line of scrimmage and tackled Walker in the end zone for a safety.

After the ensuing kickoff, Brown ran it three straight times, once for eight, once for one and again for 50 yards and the touchdown. He also got the two-point conversion, which set the final margin with 5:10 left in the game.

“The offense played well for the most part,” Russell said. “We left some points out there in the red zone and that was a little disappointing. We were pretty balanced. Overall it was pretty good team effort.”

Brown led Jacksonville’s rushing attack with 105 yards and a touchdown on just nine carries. McClure led the receivers with five receptions for 83 yards.

Jacksonville held the advantage in total yards by a large margin. Jacksonville gained 400 while Mountain Home had just 194.

The win evens Jacksonville’s overall record at 2-2. The Red Devils stay on the road next week, traveling to Jonesboro. The Hurricane beat Little Rock Parkview 56-28 on Friday.

EDITORIAL >>We applaud Rick Perry

Rick Perry, Arkansas’ favorite Republican candidate for president, according to the polls, has a Mike Huckabee problem. It is not so much that Huckabee seems to despise him—that will not be a factor in Perry’s fortunes even in Arkansas—but that he and Huckabee share too many impulses.

They are not the impulses that get you nominated for president by the Republican Party. First, there was Perry’s softhearted effort to use the government of Texas to vaccinate teenage girls against a fatal cancer. His party’s right wing in Texas forced him to withdraw that executive order, and all his Republican opponents have clobbered him for it in the debates. He apologized for his humanitarian impulse, and the issue seems to have gone away.

It was reminiscent of Huckabee’s vast expansion of the Arkansas government’s health-insurance services for children—a little bit of socialism that seemed to carry well with Arkansas voters, although it would kill our former governor if he were running for president in the 2012 primaries.

But Perry’s larger problem became apparent in the big Florida debate Thursday night. His opponents, chiefly Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, ridiculed Perry’s big Texas achievement, to allow the children of illegal immigrants to go to Texas state universities and junior colleges without having to pay prohibitive out-of-state tuition. Huckabee tried to pass a similar law in Arkansas in 2003 and 2005 but failed, largely owing to opposition by Republican legislators.

Hostility to immigrants has been a litmus test for the Republican Party for a decade, and this year it is one of those issues on which the party’s controlling right wing brooks no softness. John McCain and Mike Huckabee learned that early in 2008 and managed to overcome it. McCain, like the early George W. Bush, supported a “pathway to citizenship” for illegal immigrants, but he was booed so vociferously in the early debates and dropped so precipitously in the polls that he came back demagoguing the immigration issue, saying that stopping immigration by building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico had to come first. Huckabee did the same.

No politician in America had been more sympathetic and considerate of illegal immigrants than Huckabee while he was governor. On Huckabee’s volition, Arkansas became one of only seven states that used Medicaid money to cover prenatal care for immigrant women because, Huckabee said, Hispanic women had an unusually high prenatal birth-defect risk.

He arranged to open a Mexican consulate to Little Rock to help immigrants with labor problems and with getting legal papers. He condemned federal agents for raiding a plant at Arkadelphia and deporting Mexican workers and splitting their families. He told one crowd that God had given America “a second chance” to do the right thing by treating Hispanics better than it had treated African-Americans for much of its history.

Perry isn’t that sympathetic to the central American aliens, but it is still a bigger problem for him than it was for Huckabee, who managed to hang in the race with McCain in 2008 long after everyone else had caved. Perry is the front-runner, owing mainly to his instant good standing with the tea-party wing, but it was pretty clear that most people weren’t aware of Perry’s record. They are becoming more aware with every debate.

Perry has to find a way to force some acceptance of his views on immigration or else change his views, as he has on so many issues. Wednesday, he said he was not backing down, but we imagine there is some deep reassessment going on in the governor’s camp.

Perry tried a little of Huckabee’s early strategy three years ago, but it did not seem to win any favor. He said children of illegal immigrants did not break the law and they should not be punished for what their parents did. It was far better for everyone, he said, if the state made it as easy as possible for them to get a good education so that they could become productive people.

Of the opponents who were criticizing him, Perry said, anyone who disagreed with his tuition policy did not have a heart. The tea-party audience at the debate—a Perry crowd, you thought at the outset—booed him lustily. Romney and Santorum seized the moment.

“I think if you are opposed to illegal immigration, it doesn’t mean you don’t have a heart,” Romney said. “It means you have a heart and a brain.”

Santorum hit a chord with the audience with a lie. He said the point was not humanity but money. He said Perry was subsidizing college for immigrant children when they should be made to borrow money for school like everyone else.

It is not true, of course. Paying in-state tuition rather than out-of-state tuition puts the youngsters on the same footing as everyone else except people from outside Texas who want to attend its once-great universities. Immigrants pay the same taxes as everyone else and there is no reason they should not be allowed to go to school on the same financial terms as everyone else. Even with in-state tuition it is still expensive, prohibitively expensive for all but a few migrants.

Huckabee has made his hostility to Perry clear (it arises from Perry’s refusal to endorse his candidacy for president in 2008, instead backing the liberal Rudy Giuliani and then McCain). Huckabee said the other day that Romney, despite their own bitter differences, was a better candidate than Perry. You might think that Huckabee would be in Perry’s corner, which might fortify Perry’s standing in the evangelical wing of the party, but with Huckabee grudges trump philosophy.

The big-haired Texan can still profit from Huckabee’s example. He ought to stand behind the one humanitarian impulse that he has evinced. It would show some character. Huckabee turned it into a religious issue, and Perry surely can manage that. Being generous with poor immigrants is what Jesus would do. Perry could say that God told him to do it. That is our contribution to the Perry candidacy. It may be our last. — Ernie Dumas

TOP STORY > >Accused refuses to make deal in slaying

Leader staff writer

The Greenbrier woman charged with protecting her husband after he allegedly robbed and murdered a Cabot man pleaded guilty in Lonoke Circuit Court this week.

The man she admitted to helping continues to plead not guilty and is set for trial on Oct. 27 for capital murder.

Jaclyn Derreberry, 31, was sentenced Thursday to 20 years in prison with six years suspended. Prosecutor Chuck Graham said she will also get credit for the 169 days she has spent in jail since her arrest.

Cabot firefighters discovered the body of Billy Joe Pipkin, 61, on April 4 when they responded to a fire at his pawnshop and used-car business at 3650 S. Hwy. 367.

Five days later, David Derreberry, 37, was arrested and charged with capital murder, aggravated robbery, arson, theft of a firearm and theft of property more than $2,500.

His wife was charged with hindering apprehension, two counts of theft by receiving, and criminal use of property and laundering of criminal proceeds.

Investigators with the State Police, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the county sheriff’s department locatedDerreberry by the car he was driving, a black Volkswagen convertible with chrome wheels, when he allegedly killed Pipkin.

The victim’s father, Abe Pipkin, was a Beebe police officer who was found beaten to death with a crowbar almost on the same day 34 years earlier.

The elder Pipkin’s murder went unsolved for 25 years until Gary Lee Evans confessed to his girlfriend, who was wearing a recorder, that he had murdered the police officer when Abe Pipkin came upon Evans and others robbing a drugstore. Evans was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

TOP STORY > >PCSSD names chief numbers cruncher

Leader staff writer

The Pulaski County Special School District has hired a former employee of the state Education Department and the Division of Legislative Audit as its new chief financial officer, a position at the crosshairs of criticism from both entities.

William (Bill) Goff will officially take the reins from Anita Farver, the outgoing CFO, next Friday, Farver’s last day with the district. The decision came one week after she announced her resignation.

Since Farver was hired as chief financial officer in 2009, PCSSD has been called out for not putting all of its desegregation funds toward desegregation-related expenses. The Arkansas Legislative Audit office and the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee have chastised the district for financial mismanagement.

The audit team praised Farver’s work with the district on numerous occasions.

The state Education Department, which placed PCSSD in fiscal distress, took over the district in June, dissolving the school board and firing then-Superintendent Dr. Charles Hopson.

Goff will be responsible for overseeing a budget of approximately $250 million while helping move the district into fiscal solvency, said Superintendent Dr. Jerry Guess.

“It’s a big job and Mr. Goff is the right person at the right time,” Guess said. “We are navigating through some tough financial times and he brings the skills to the table to move us forward.”

Guess said Goff’s start date has not been determined; he is expected to give notice to the ADE and start at PCSSD shortly afterward.

Goff, a certified public accountant, has served as the assistant commissioner of fiscal and administrative services for the state Education Department since July 2008.

He was responsible for administering the budget, finance and facilities functions of the agency, as well as fiscal monitoring and support for the state’s school districts.

Before that, he was the director for the Arkansas Public School Computer Network for the Department. APSCN’s mission is to maintain a statewide communications network that provides all Arkansas public school systems and education service cooperatives with electronic access to administrative computer services and provide a system for electronically submitting data to the state.

Goff has also been the business manager for the Benton and Texarkana school districts and a field auditor for the state Division of Legislative Audit.

The reason for Farver’s resignation was not released, but Guess said in a statement, “Ms. Farver has served the district faithfully for several years and worked tirelessly to manage funds in times of fiscal distress. We appreciate her dedication and hard work and we wish her well in her future endeavors.”

Farver will use the off time to finish work on a doctorate degree. She has offered to help with transition to a new chief financial officer. She has been with the district for four years.

TOP STORY > >Four caught in Texas for murder here

Leader staff writer

Four people were arrested on felony charges around 2:30 p.m. Friday in Longview, Texas, for the Sunday afternoon murder of Walter Jones, 28, in Lonoke.

Jeremy Walker, 24, was charged with second-degree murder and committing a terroristic act.

Cortney McClain, 24, was charged with hindering apprehension.

Kimo McClain, 21, Cortney McClain’s younger brother, was charged with hindering apprehension.

All three are from Lonoke.

Fantasia Williams, 26, of Longview, Kimo McClain’s girlfriend, was charged with hindering apprehension.

Lonoke Police Chief Michael Wilson said all four were hiding out at Williams’ house in Texas. They are all in custody and are awaiting extradition.

Jones, of 105 Teresa Lane, was found dead at 2:46 p.m. Sunday at the mailboxes along 101 Plantation Drive after a disturbance was reported to police.

Cortney McClain, of 302 Tere-sa Lane, was walking east in the 100 block of Plantation Drive with a gunshot wound to his left forearm when police arrived. Plantation Drive is across thestreet from Teresa Lane.

McClain told police at the scene that he and Jones were fighting. During the fight, Jones pulled out a silver revolver. McClain said he attempted to take control of the weapon. During the struggle, McClain said, he was shot in the left forearm and Jones was also shot.

Witnesses reported a third man at the scene. It is believed the shootings are related to a fight that occurred last Saturday night at a nightclub in Scott.

Jones had a gunshot wound on the left side of his head near the left ear. He was wearing a white T-shirt, black pants and a black do-rag.

A silver revolver with blood was found in the grass next to Jones’ body. Wilson said police do not believe that gun was the weapon used in the shooting.

Wilson said both Jones and McClain have lived in Lonoke for many years. He assumed they knew each other.

Jones’ funeral will be held at 1 p.m. today at the Palm Street Church of Christ.

McClain’s grandmother’s house at 302 Teresa Lane burned at 1:30 a.m. Monday in a suspected act of revenge. No one was at the home when the fire occurred.

Wilson said the grandmother had received threats early in the evening. She decided to stay at another person’s house for the night.

Wilson said the house possibly is a total loss. Wilson called the State Police arson investigator to the scene. The investigator found traces of an accelerant.

As of Friday afternoon, no arrests have been made relating to the arson.

In Little Rock, there was a reported drive-by shooting where bullets were shot into a house where McClain’s cousin lives.

The Lonoke Police Depart-ment has taken charge of the investigation from the State Police. Jones’ murder is the first for Lonoke in more than five years.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

EDITORIAL >> So long, Ernie P.

Ernie Passailaigue resigned Monday as the director of the Arkansas lottery, which will appease two large groups of people: those who hated the lottery as a moral blight on the state and those who love the lottery but assume that Passailaigue was responsible for the many blunders that beset the two-year-old operation.

The lottery brought in $13 million less for scholarships in the second year than it did in the first, the opposite of what was supposed to happen, so the awards had to be reduced this year.

But their euphoria in both instances may be misplaced. Passailaigue did not invent the Arkansas lottery but just got it up and running very quickly, which seemed to be what state lawmakers and the lottery’s champions wanted. The miscues that kept the lottery in headlines for two years were not so much Passailaigue’s fault as they were endemic to institutionalized gambling. The constitutional and statutory law that set up the lottery as an independent agency almost guaranteed that it would have problems.

Passailaigue’s chutzpah and his whopping $324,000 salary—nearly four times the governor’s—made him an inviting target when anything went wrong, as it did, time after time. He brought with him two assistants from South Carolina, both at salaries higher than the top medical professionals at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. But Passailaigue didn’t fix those salaries. The legislature and the political appointees to the Lottery Commission did.

What kind of education and expertise does it take to run a lottery? Passailaigue was a state senator and an accountant when he got the job in South Carolina. The big gambling franchises helped him get it started, as they did in Arkansas and in all the states that run lotteries.

An audit of the lottery after its first year found problems in its accounting and management practices and criticized its sloppy financial report. Passailaigue awarded illegal compensatory time to himself and other top officials. A big gaming contract gave the vendor a fixed and handsome percentage of the proceeds rather than a flat sum—in exchange, Passailaigue said, for their getting the thing set up quickly. Only 20 percent of all the lottery sales went to scholarships, which made a few commissioners and legislators unhappy. Reducing winnings for bettors and profits for vendors would reduce the handle and produce even less scholarship money, Passailaigue said.

In the end, it was no doubt Gov. Beebe who forced his resignation. The governor had never been happy about the big salaries or the inherent powers of lottery officials and he made his unhappiness increasingly evident. Passailaigue went gracefully, which speaks as well of him as anything he did.

Someone suggested a salary of $125,000 for the new manager, which seems about right and is in line with directors of state lotteries of similar size. The State Police is a much larger and more vital agency and its director makes less. Lottery champions insist that it is about the most important agency in government because it sends tens of thousands of kids to college.

The lottery does account for a few more people attending college, but mainly it has made college going simply easier for some 25,000 youngsters whose parents no longer have to pay much for college because the lottery law lowered the academic requirements for state help and removed family need as a standard. The poor who buy lottery tickets in desperate numbers pick up the tab for parents.

If Ernie Passailaigue had not facilitated it, someone else would.

TOP STORY >> Cabot candidates in runoff Oct. 11

Brian Evans and Helen Teffer will be in a runoff Oct. 11 after they were nearly tied Tuesday in a three-way race for Position 2 on the Cabot School Board.

Evans received 353 votes and Teffer 351 votes. Lonnie Lane trailed with 75 votes.

Donna Nash was unopposed for Position 6 after Terrance Townsend dropped out of the race. She received 647 votes, while 78 went for Townsend, who moved out of the district. But it was too late to remove his name from the ballot.

In Lonoke, Matthew L. Boyles defeated incumbent Michael Linton for Zone 2, Position 7, 113-28.

In Carlisle, incumbent C.J. Parker defeated Daniel Lee Staton, 36-26, in Zone 2.

Robert Jenkins ran unopposed in Beebe.

TOP STORY >> Lonoke murder threatened on Facebook

Leader staff writer

“My brother didn’t deserve the way he died,” Walter Jones’ sister, Brandi Harris, said as she described his weekend murder in Lonoke.

“It was on Facebook that someone was going to kill him,” she said.

According to Harris, a group of about 20 people came to Jones’ house on Teresa Lane on Sunday.

It is believed there was a shootout and a retaliatory arson because of an argument Saturday night at a nightclub in Scott. The police chief said he doesn’t think it was gang-related.

It was Lonoke’s first murder in five years and has residents living along Teresa Lane on edge. Jones, 28, was the father of five children.

Police were called to South Center Street and Plantation Drive at 2:46 p.m. Sunday about a disturbance.

When the officer arrived, he saw Courtney McClain, 24, of 302 Teresa Lane walking east in the 100 block of Planation Drive with what looked like a gunshot wound on his left forearm. Planation Drive is across the street from Teresa Lane.

The officer also saw Jones, of 105 Teresa Lane, dead, with a gunshot wound on the left side of his head near the left ear. He was wearing a white T-shirt and black pants, with a black do-rag lying near the mailbox for 101 Plantation Drive.

The officer called for medical personnel and additional officers. A silver revolver with blood was found in the grass next to Jones’ body.

Police secured the scene and asked McClain what happened. McClain told police that he and Jones began to fight. During the fight, Jones pulled a silver revolver. McClain said he attempted to grab the weapon. During the struggle, McClain said, he was shot in the left forearm and Jones was also shot.

Southern Ambulance personnel found Jones had no vital signs. McClain was then treated and transported to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ emergency room in Little Rock.

McClain was treated and released Sunday afternoon, according to Police Chief Michael Wilson.

The police department has not filed charges and no arrests have been made. The investigation is ongoing. Wilson said they are waiting for results from the medical examiner and the ballistic reports from the state crime lab.

Wilson said both Jones and McClain have lived in Lonoke for many years. He assumed they knew each other.

Witnesses reported seeing a third person at the scene. Wilson said police do not believe the gun found next to Jones was the weapon used in the shooting.

At 1:30 a.m. Mon-day, McClain’s grandmother’s house at 302 Teresa Lane burned in a suspected act of revenge. No one was at the home when the fire started.

Wilson said the grandmother had received threats early in the evening. She decided to stay at a friend’s house for the night.

Wilson thought the house was a total loss. Wilson called the state police arson investigator to the scene. The investigator found traces of an accelerant.

 “People have called the police department reporting anonymous threats,” Wilson said.

He said there was a reported drive-by shooting in Little Rock where bullets were shot into a house where McClain’s cousin lives.

“It is very scary. There are too many kids on the street for this. This is getting out of control. Some innocent house could get targeted. The houses look so much the same,” a mother living on Teresa Lane said.

She wants more police officers patrolling the area.

“It is not safe right now,” she said.

Wilson said a state trooper and a Lonoke County sheriff’s deputy are assisting the city police patrolling in the area. No incidents occurred Monday night.

Wilson said the case was turned over to the State Police because of a conflict of interest in the police department. He would not elaborate.

Lakeisha Harden, a close friend of Jones, said. “He was sweet, kind, and a generous person. He was well-known and likeable. He loved his kids.”

“We called him Walt Baby Love,” she said.

It was a name his family had given him when he was younger.

“He had lots of family and friends in Lonoke. He will be truly missed by many,” his sister said.

She said Jones wanted to open his own business one day.

A close friend Allen Nelson said Jones was kind-hearted.

“He was cool. A person you would like to be around. He was more like a brother to me,” Nelson said.

Jones’ funeral will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Palm Street Church of Christ.

TOP STORY >> Air Force faces spending cuts

Leader executive editor

Even as major military operations continue around the world, the nation’s armed forces are being asked to do more and could see higher health-insurance costs and lower pension benefits.

The Air Force, like other services, will see its budget shrink and benefits for service members squeezed if Congress goes through with plans to cut spending across the board.

The spending cuts are required under a debt agreement that calls for trimming $900 billion in defense spending over the next decade. Items on the chopping block are weapons procurement, higher health-insurance premiums and reduced pension benefits. Those last two items cost the military about $100 billion a year.

But top Air Force Gen. Norton Schwartz says the service can get the job done and predicted there would be no deep cuts in its manpower.

The challenge facing the Air Force is how to do more with fewer resources, including fewer new planes already in the planning stages that may not get built.

The Air Force has 330,000 service members, down from 600,000 in 1996.

Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, said recently a belt tightening is inevitable.

The Air Force budget of $119.6 billion is down $4.5 billion.

“We have been through episodes of declining resources and rebounding from those periods,” Schwartz said in a recent interview with Air Force Times. “I think I have been through three of those in my tenure. This is not a temporary thing. It is not a six-month thing, for sure. My sense is that this period of austerity is likely going to last five years. That is sort of what we are planning for. That is one of those things. If it turns out that things are better, that will be a delightful outcome.”

“The truth is that we will probably have to curtail our ambition some here for a period of time,” the general said. “That is just the facts. That is just the nature of the current environment.”

Schwartz emphasized the importance of keeping spending down. “The need to manage personnel costs going forward clearly is something we are going to have to do,” he told Air Force Times. “It started this year with the proposals on modest increases in co-pays for Tricare (insurance). There will have to be more of this.”

Schwartz, who became chief of staff in 2008, served two tours at Little Rock Air Force Base.
Schwartz received his C-130 pilot training at LRAFB in 1974-75 and was a C-130H flight examiner here with the 61st Tactical Airlift Squadron from 1977-1979.

Soon after Schwartz’s appointment, Brig. Gen. Rowayne A. Schatz Jr., commander of the 314th Airlift Wing, transferred to the Pentagon. He was recently promoted to major general. Schatz is the director of strategic plans, requirements and programs at Air Mobility Command.

“It is preferable to have a smaller, superb force than a larger, hollow one,” Schwartz said in the Air Force Times interview. “Those of us who have been around a while remember what it was like to schedule three airplanes to make one, or walk down the line and see airplanes with no engines, or fewer engines than they were supposed to have. We do not want to go back to those days. A smaller, superb force is the right formula for our Air Force and, I think, for the armed forces.
He predicted a much smaller role for U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The principal role we would be fulfilling is training,” Schwartz explained. “We have at the moment about 350 air advisers in Iraq doing everything from training on airspace control to obviously operating and maintaining aircraft and so on — and trainers, as well. If there is a request, if our government decides to do that, that will be the primary mission.

“The Iraqi air force, within the capabilities that they possess and the assets at their disposal, they are pretty competent. Certainly, that level of competence will improve over time.

“They will undoubtedly acquire additional assets than they currently possess, which are transport-focused right now, some attack helicopter capability, and that sort of thing. Over time, that clearly will improve. These are technically oriented, educated people. I think they will do fine.”

Schwartz said airmen often fall in battle without enough recognition from the media, such as a recent helicopter crash that also claimed the lives of Navy Seals, who received most of the publicity.
Still, it’s not publicity he’s after but success in the field, he said.

“I want to celebrate heroism. I want to celebrate valor. I want to celebrate the extraordinary performance. We will do that, but we will not do it in order to sell a program.”

Meanwhile, the Air Force continues to spend on C-130 trainers. Lockheed Martin last week received a contract worth $84.3 million to supply four C-130J maintenance and aircrew trainers and program management and engineering services.

The trainers are expected to be used for the Air Mobility Command, Air Combat Command and Air Force Special Operations Command in 2014.

Aircrew and maintenance personnel undergo extensive ground-based training before actual aircraft training.

Lockheed Martin Corp. was also awarded a $791 million contract to provide a range of other services to the Air Force.

Lockheed will support the integration of software and components for the Air Force’s combat support automated information systems.

TOP STORY >> FBI releases crime rates

Leader staff writer

Three area cities are above the state average in recently released FBI crime statistics for 2010.

The other five cities in The Leader coverage area were below the state average.

According to the report, violent crimes and property crimes fell in 2010 across the nation. The rates in Arkansas also fell in all categories except aggravated assaults, which saw a slight rise.

But what about the local area? How safe was it in 2010?

Based on the numbers in the FBI report, Beebe had more violent crime — almost eight incidents per 1,000 residents, followed closely by Lonoke at 7.4 incidents per 1,000 people. Lonoke also had its first murder in five years this weekend.

The city with the least violent crime in 2010 was Carlisle, with less than two incidents per 1,000 residents. Cabot was the next best place at 2.8 violent crimes per 1,000 residents.

The state average for 2010 was five violent crimes per 1,000 residents. Beebe, Lonoke and Jacksonville were above the state average. Carlisle, Cabot, Sherwood, Ward and Searcy fell below the state violent crime average.

The annual report lists violent crimes — such as murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assaults, as well as property crimes — such as burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft and arson.

In 2010, two local cities, Jacksonville and Sherwood, reported homicides. The state recorded 138 murders during 2010.

Looking at area cities, from most violent to least, Beebe reported 56 violent crimes in 2010 or a rate of 7.8 per 1,000 residents. The crime included no murders, six rapes, two robberies and 48 aggravated assaults. The city also reported 302 properties crimes which included 114 burglaries, 177 thefts, 11 motor vehicle thefts and one arson.

Lonoke had 35 violent crimes or a rate of 7.4 per 1,000. The crimes included no murders, two rapes, two robberies and 31 aggravated assaults. The city had 188 property crimes including 42 burglary, 145 thefts, one stolen vehicle and one arson.

Jacksonville had 190 violent crimes for the year, or a rate of 5.9 per 1,000 residents. The crimes included one murder, 27 rapes, 30 robberies and 132 aggravated robberies. The city suffered 1,333 property crimes, including 364 burglaries, 903 thefts, 66 motor vehicle thefts and five arsons.

Ward had 20 violent crimes for a rate of 4.6 per 1,000, just under the state average. The crimes included no murders, four rapes, no robberies and 16 aggravated assaults. Property crimes numbered 128 with 38 burglaries, 88 thefts, two motor vehicle thefts and no arsons.

Sherwood had 130 violent crimes reported in 2010 for a rate of 4.4 per 1,000. Crimes included one murder, six rapes, six robberies and 117 aggravated assaults. The city reported 965 property crimes during the year, including 205 burglaries, 708 thefts, 52 stolen vehicles and six arsons.

Searcy had 74 violent crimes for a rate of 3.1 violent crimes per 1,000 residents. There were no murders but four rapes, 16 robberies and 54 aggravated assaults occurred. Property crime in Searcy was reported at 1,216 incidents, including 413 burglaries, 771 thefts, 32 stolen vehicles and five arsons.

Cabot listed 72 violent crimes for a rate of 2.8 per 1,000 residents.  Again, no murders, but 12 rapes, eight robberies and 52 aggravated assaults were reported. The city had 1,048 property crimes in 2010, including 493 burglaries, 535 thefts, 20 stolen vehicles and one arson.

Carlisle reported just four violent crimes during 2010 for a rate of 1.6 per 1,000 residents and those were aggravated assaults. The city also had 37 property crimes which included 15 burglaries, 21 thefts and one stolen vehicle.

SPORTS >> Badgers can't take Rams lightly

Leader sportswriter

It’s the first big road trip for the Beebe Badgers this week as they prepare to open the 5A-East Conference schedule at Paragould on Friday. But given the Rams’ early struggles, it could be any easy road trip.

The Rams (0-3) failed to establish any momentum in non-conference losses to Valley View, Pocahontas and Trumann. The Blazers started the year with a 38-7 blowout over Paragould, while the Redskins trounced the Rams 42-26 week two before the Wildcats won big 53-32 last Friday.

The Trumann game could be a good measuring stick of what’s in store for the Rams this week. Beebe dominated the Wildcats in their preseason scrimmage game at Harding Academy.

“It’s the first conference game – now they start counting for real,” Badgers coach John Shannon said. “We want to play our best. We would hate to get to the end of the season and be fighting for a playoff spot, and it all comes down to a game we could have won but didn’t. From here on out, each game will just be bigger and bigger.”

The Badgers passed a huge test last week with a close 27-24 victory over 5A-West contender Vilonia. The Eagles had a chance to score in the final seconds inside Beebe’s 3-yard line, but a goal-line stand by the Badgers defense helped them defeat their local non-conference rival for the first time since 2007.

“The way we won, it was big– it was another close ballgame,” Shannon said. “Vilonia has been a thorn in our side, so it was nice to get that monkey off our backs. We talked to them on Saturday about how that could help us down the road.”

There were plenty of strong performances in the victory over Vilonia from the usual suspects, and perhaps the unexpected in the case of senior tailback Rory Moore. Moore has been a solid contributor for the Badgers early on, but with classmate and fellow tailback Jay Holdway carrying much of the load in Beebe’s first two games, Moore’s 81-yard, team-leading performance last week gave indication that the Badgers could have some of the best skill depth in the East Conference.

Senior quarterback Dustin Stallnacker has also grown more comfortable in his role as a first-year starter. Stallnacker has been very effective on the ground since the start of the season, and add the fact that he threw for two touchdown passes last week against Vilonia, it adds another dimension for opponents to defend.

“We’ve had guys stepping up every week,” Shannon said. “We’ve got several guys carrying the ball well. Anytime you can be balanced like that, it makes it harder for people to defend against you.”

Defensively, Shannon said senior linebacker Bradley Gann played the game of his life against a strong Vilonia rushing attack that included Division-I college prospect James Sax.

The Rams may be down on their luck, but Shannon is not taking them lightly.

“Their offensive line is bigger than what they were last year,” Shannon said. “They’ve got their quarterback and their fullback back this year. I’d say they’re better than what they were last year.

“It’s our first big road trip. That means we’ve got a lot of things going against us – getting on the road on time, finding a place to eat and then loading back up, just all kinds of distractions.”

SPORTS >> An inspiration to others

Leader sportswriter

Inspiration is important to Richard Vaughn.

In fact, the only thing he likes better than inspiring others is when they inspire him, which often occur simultaneously.

Those flashes of inspiration happen to Vaughn frequently as he makes his rounds on one of three wheelchair marathon practice courses he has laid out on the streets of Jacksonville. And giving inspiration to Richard is simple: just honk and wave at him.

It is a small gesture that goes a long way for someone who has been a source of inspiration for many throughout the years. Vaughn, paralyzed from the waist down since age 17, has lived a life rich with athletic feats and personal accomplishments in his 59 years, and he’s far from done.

From his younger years as one of the original Rollin’ Razorbacks to his current gig of wheelchair marathons – he’s won 12 of the 18 events entered – Vaughn is more interested in the cause rather than the hardware.

His next event will be the Waddell and Reed Kansas City Marathon, a 26.2-mile course set around the 17 majestic fountains throughout the city on Oct. 15. It will be Vaughn’s third trek around the City of Fountains to bring awareness to leukemia lymphoma, and he’s raised over $7,500 for the cause to date.

“Leukemia picked a fight with me as it were,” Vaughn said. “I broke my back at 17. When I was rehabbing at Easter Seals, I watched three kids die from leukemia. And now, a guy I work with is dying from leukemia.”

His motivational website offers a poster of Vaughn wearing all of his marathon medals that can be purchased, with the proceeds going to fight leukemia.

Vaughn lists three reasons why he enjoys participating in wheelchair marathons – to stay healthy, to help charities and because marathons are a social sport. And instead of using a special racing chair that can climb to 35 miles per hour, he gives the others a fighting chance by using a standard day-to-day chair, the same one he has used for over two decades.

But he still beats them most of the time.

“Clark Kent couldn’t get this chair up to 15 miles-per-hour because of the small front casters,” Vaughn said. “The front casters would do the shopping cart thing. The racing chairs weigh about three pounds – my chair weighs 28 pounds. As often as not, I beat them. And the reason is because they don’t do well going uphill.”

Vaughn also holds the world record for the 10-nautical-mile run (11.7 statute miles) in a wheelchair with a time of 1:37.

Vaughn was a star basketball player for the Searcy Lions during his high-school years, and was heavily recruited by the University of Arkansas. But an 85-foot fall from tall scaffolding while working a summer job shortly after graduation changed his plans forever.

“I turned 18 and 19 in the hospital,” Vaughn said. “I had a lot of time to think about it. I’m sure I went through the same gambit everyone else does, first denial, then convincing myself I would walk again, but I never really went through any bitterness.

“About six weeks into it, I also had a cardiac arrest. After I recovered from that, I just thanked God I was alive.”

Vaughn prepared himself while in the hospital for a lifetime of having to do things in a different way. That led to a 35-year stint in wheelchair basketball that included numerous national championships before maturity finally ended his career a few years ago.

But he has found equal success in marathons. Initially, Vaughn found training on the streets of Jacksonville to be somewhat of a hassle with people constantly stopping to offer him a ride or ask if he needed any help. That all changed with a simple solution provided by his wife – a headband. Now that he sports the headband on his training rounds, more people have a better understanding of what’s going on.

“It’s a little ironic, don’t you think?” Vaughn asked as he held out a sweatband that reads: “go walking.”

Who said inspiration doesn’t have a sense of humor?

And through it all, Vaughn has found that the greatest source of inspiration for him is to be told he is an inspiration.

“When someone calls you an inspiration, what are you going to do, quit?” Vaughn said. “In other words, when someone calls you an inspiration, it inspires you to keep going.”

SPORTS >> Devils won't revel in win

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville just got its first win of the season, and it was cathartic for the Red Devils, who were reeling from two straight losses after much optimism in preseason.

The celebration can’t last, as it now prepares for a long road trip to Mountain Home to face a Bomber squad that appears to have made a dramatic turnaround in coach Benji Mahan’s second season.

The Bombers entered the season on a nine-game losing streak after winning only its season opener last year. They are 3-0 this season, with their biggest win coming last week against longtime nemesis Batesville 27-20. It was their first win over the Pioneers in four years.

In weeks one and two, they beat Nettleton 34-12 and Harrison 37-0.

Mahan, a former Arkansas Razorback and assistant coach for Barry Lunney Sr. at Fort Smith Southside and Bentonville, attributes the turnaround to the commitment of his players to his
 approach to preparation, and their hard work.

“The work they’ve put  in since November, they’ve really bought in to what we’re trying to do in offseason,” Mahan said. “The belief and trust they have in each other has been remarkable too.

They’ve really come together as a team and made a commitment to getting stronger and to each other. We’re a much stronger and more physical team than we were last year.”

This year’s Bombers are groundbreakers as well, at least they think so. Mahan played for Mountain Home in the late 80s. He, nor anyone he has talked to, can remember the Bombers starting a season 3-0.

“It’s kind of something new for this community,” Mahan said. “People are pretty excited about it.”

Mahan and the MHHS staff had a secret coming into the season. His name is Drake Walker and he’d never taken a snap in a high-school football game before week one this year. The sophomore starter has exceeded even Mahan’s expectations so far.

“There’s a lot of things that contribute to this team, but the biggest story is our quarterback,” Mahan said. “We knew what kind of player we had in Drake, but I think the secret’s out to the rest of the conference. I knew he was going to have success, but I thought it was going to be with his arm. For him to also have the success he’s had with his feet is very encouraging because it gives you another dimension to your offense we don’t necessarily know we were going to have.”

The Bombers also have some good backs, and will get its fastest player back from injury this week.
“Ethan Britt is back,” Mahan said. “He’s our fastest guy so he really helps keep the defenses more honest.

To go with Britt, the Bombers have several athletes they feel comfortable handing the ball. In Britt’s absence, Damon Berry, Tyler Starch and Hunter Thorpe all played significant roles in offensive productivity.

Jacksonville brings a team to the game that maybe cured some ills with its first win last week. Mahan doesn’t believe the team has played up to its full potential, and hopes this week isn’t the week the Red Devils put it all together.

“You can just look at them and tell they have some great athletes,” Mahan said. “Anytime you play Jacksonville you’ve got to be concerned with the type of players they put on the field. They’ve got guys all over the field that can make things happen when they get the ball in their hands. Now they have that quarterback too, (Tirrell) Brown. He’s big, he’s strong and man, he can throw that ball. He’s tough to bring down even if you get to him, and if he has time, he does a great job of finding guys that can catch the football.”

The Red Devils and Bombers kickoff at 7 p.m. Friday.

SPORTS >> Panthers hosting archrival

Leader sports editor

The Cabot Panthers have to begin to solve their defensive problems this week as the Conway Wampus Cats visit Panthers Stadium on Friday. Not only has Conway become Cabot’s biggest rivalry, it’s also the first week of conference play, and games count towards playoff berths and positions.

The Panthers are 1-2 overall and currently on a two-game losing streak. Despite the recent losses, Cabot has moved the football against everyone it has played.

The problems that have to fixed can be seen in the scores of the last two games. The Panthers have given up an average over 56 points per game in its last two. Allowing 64 to Pulaski Academy and 49 to Springdale Har-Ber.

Conway coach Clint Ashcraft is in his third year as head coach for the Wampus Cats and has done a good job of getting the program back to state prominence after inheriting a team on a two-year absence from the postseason.

Ashcraft installed the spread offense and went 9-1 in the regular-season last year, winning a share of the 7A Central conference championship and handing Cabot, who it shared the conference title with, its only league loss by a whopping 41-7 margin.

Conway opened this year with a down-to-the wire loss to Fort Smith Southside. Since then it has beaten Jonesboro and Rogers-Heritage without much difficulty.

This week Conway’s offense, which has averaged 38 points per game, lines up across from a Cabot defense that is young, inexperienced and has struggled badly in the last two weeks, especially in the secondary against the spread offense.

Ashcraft says the main key to his offense clicking the way it has this year is his quarterback Tyler Langly.

“When we’ve been able to give him time he’s done a really good job,” Ashcraft said. “It all starts with him. He’s really improved and he’s doing his job well right now.”

One spot where Cabot could alleviate some of the pressure on the youthful secondary is on the defensive front. The Panther line spent lots of time in Pulaski Academy’s backfield, it just couldn’t catch the fleet-footed quarterback Fredi Knighten. Langly is also pretty mobile, but he’s not the athlete that Knighten is.

Conway’s offensive line has been suspect at times this year, so it’s a concern for Ashcraft.

“Their down linemen have looked really good on film,” Ashcraft said of Cabot. The defensive line looks to me to be really good. I’ve seen some teams have had some success throwing the ball on them, but we’re going to have to really work on our pass protection.”

Conway has just one returning starter on the offensive line from last year’s squad, and it has been a work in progress.

“We knew coming in that it was going to be,” Ashcraft said. “It’s just a deal where we’re trying to get better every week, just improve weekly in our pass protection.”

Conway has been no slouch in the running game either. The Cats have a committee of good backs, but primarily relies on Corderius Irby and Corbin Alexander. Irby is a bruiser at 6-feet, 215 pounds. Alexander is smaller, but very quick and great acceleration.

“It’s a good changeup to have,” Ashcract said. “When you can go from a big bruiser to one that has a chance to outrun you if he catches seam, that’s a good one-two punch. It’s an advantage.”

Ashcraft has also seen Cabot’s offense on film, and is concerned, not just with how well it has executed, but with the scheme itself.

“I don’t care who they have out there, their scheme is going to make them tough,” Ashcraft said. “It’s a once-a-year deal and everything has to change a little bit in what you’re doing all week to prepare for it.”

Mimicking the Cabot offense for defensive preparation is difficult, according to Ashcraft.

“I don’t know if it’s possible to be honest with you,” Ashcraft said. “We try to do it, it’s just so different. We can tell them how to line up and what to do, but Cabot’s technique is so good, we can’t get guys to do it like that in a week.”

Cabot and Conway kickoff at 7 p.m. this Friday at Panther Stadium in Cabot.