Saturday, September 09, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Blasts of brightness in loss to Rockets

Leader staff writer

Catholic Rockets’ running back Samy Johnson had more than 100 yards rushing after just three runs as he led the Rockets to a 34-17 victory over the Jacksonville Titans in a non-conference game at Jacksonville.

Even though the Rockets dominated the ground and air attacks, there were still bright spots for the Titans including a monster run by quarterback Harderrious Martin, workhorse running back Shawn Ellis gaining more than 100 yards for the night., along with some strong tackles and two defensive interceptions.

But it was Catholic that hit the first three scores of the night in the first quarter and controlled the tempo most of the game after that.

The Rockets struck on their first possession with Chris Elser hitting a field goal from the 20-yard line.

Next Rocket possession, Johnson long-legged it for a 49-yard touchdown and Elser tacked on the extra point.

Third possession, it was Johnson again on a 30-yard scamper and with the extra point it was 17-0.

The Titans had a chance on the ensuing kickoff that went out of bounds, giving them the ball on the 35-yard line, their best field position of the quarter. Jacksonville, behind the legs of Ellis, moved it to the 47-yard line, before a sack and a tackle for a loss stop the momentum.

But right before the end of the first quarter Kevin Fulton intercepted a Catholic pass at the Titan 47-yard line. But in a strange call, the officials ruled pass interference on the Titans, moved the ball to the 37-yard line and let Jacksonville keep the ball. No one on the home side seemed to be upset, but the coaches all had hands up in the air wondering about the call.

It was one of a number of questionable calls in the game by officials including spotting the ball five-yards farther forward from where the Titans had stopped Johnson, and spotting the ball five yards back on a Titan gain.

Ellis and the Titans used ball control and solid runs to get down to the 17-yard line. On a second-and-four, quarterback Martin used some misdirection to freeze the Catholic defense and scampered in for a touchdown and a 17-7 Catholic lead.

Jacksonville defense then got in the act again and stopped the Rockets’ top running back Johnson on a fourth-and-two.

After taking over on downs, Martin legged it out for 12 yards, but a penalty marched it back 10. Two plays later, Ellis had a strong run of 39 yards. But a false start and a quarterback sack made it fourth-and-16, forcing a punt.

With a little over a minute to go, Titans got the ball back at the Rockets’ 29-yard line.

A sure touchdown pass sailed through the outreached hands of Zach McDaniel, but then Ellis rambled down to the 13-yard line, taking a number of Rockets with him. But the drive stalled with the Titans settling for a field goal, making it a tight 17-10 ballgame at the half.

But in the second half, the Rockets ran a faster offense leading to a touchdown early in the third quarter, followed by another one their next possession.

The Titans’ play of the game came with 42 seconds left in the third quarter as Martin, looking to pass, scrambled about 30-yards side to side in the backfield, before tucking the ball and taking off for a 40-yard touchdown run.

Late in the fourth quarter that same scrambling mentality turned into a 17-yard loss.

The final score came with just under six minutes to go as the Rockets kicked a field goal, making it 34-17.

The Titans are now 1-1 and will face Sylvan Hills in an away game next Friday.

SPORTS STORY >> Wildcats throw for win at Cabot

Leader sports editor

Just like in Week 1, the Cabot defense got a lot better in the second half, giving up just one score to El Dorado. The problem, though, in Week 2 one score was all El Dorado needed for a 28-24 victory at Panther Stadium.

The Wildcats led 21-17 at halftime, but Cabot took it back after an El Dorado turnover in the third quarter. The Wildcats then scored their only touchdown of the second half with 47 seconds left in the third to set the final margin.

Cabot missed a 30-yard field-goal attempt with 8:47 left in the game and had two more opportunities to score after the defense held the Wildcats on their final two possessions.

The first one ended with the Panthers failed to convert on fourth and 6 near midfield. Cabot had hit the tight end counter for big gains several times, but El Dorado finally snuffed it out on third and 5 for a 1-yard loss. Cabot ran it again on fourth down, but Ayden Shurley could only get 2yards and the Wildcats took over at their own 45 with 5:09 to play.

Cabot’s defense got it back after a sack by Isaiah Ogilvie forced a fourth down and 8. El Dorado went for it with 2:04 to go, but the pass fell incomplete giving Cabot the ball on its own 31 with 1:58 to play.

Cabot had to try to pass but couldn’t. After Brad Morales ran for 4 yards on first down, a roll-out pass on second down fell incomplete. Quarterback Tommy Oaks was forced to scramble on the next two plays, and only gained 2 yards each time, giving El Dorado the ball with no timeouts left.

All that was left was to kneel twice to end the game.

“We ran the heck out of that (tight end counter) and they finally figured it out,” said Cabot coach Mike Malham. “It’s one loss in a nonconference game. We’ll go back to work and get stronger.”

Cabot’s second half touchdown came on a 31-yard run by Shurley on the tight end counter. Its first touchdown of the game was also on that play to senior John Wiens.

Cabot got on the board first after stopping the Wildcats’ opening drive in three plays. Defensive tackle Dayonte Roberts got a piece of the El Dorado punt, setting Cabot’s offense up at the Wildcat 45. The Panthers got one first down but gained nothing on third and 4 at the 19-yard line.

Ben McCullough then nailed a 37-yard field goal with 7:36 left in the first quarter for a 3-0 Cabot lead.

It didn’t last long. El Dorado went 80 yards in four plays, including 79 in the last three. Shun Levingston got behind the Cabot defense for a 44-yard catch on second and 9. Sophomore tailback Richard Kesee then rumbled 13 yards for a first down to the 22. Levingston got the call again on the next play and made the catch in the corner of the end zone just 62 seconds after the field goal.

The Panthers answered with the help of some El Dorado penalties.

Quarterback Tommy Oaks got 11 yards to the 42-yard line on the drive’s first play. On third and 4, Oaks got the Wildcats to jump off sides for a first down. Adam Flores went 8 yards before another off-sides penalty made first down at the Wildcat 34.

Junior halfback T.J. Rogers took the option pitch 21 yards to the 13 and Wiens scored on the next play.

McCullough’s extra point put Cabot up 10-7 with 3:01 left in the first quarter.

El Dorado’s offense then drove 90 yards in nine plays, never facing a third down and overcoming two illegal procedure penalties. Quarterback Darius Holly completed passes of 14, 13, 9, 20 and 15 yards on the drive. The last one Levingston again, but the extra point was wide, leaving it 13-10 El Dorado with 11:28 left in the second quarter.

Penalties hampered Cabot’s next drive after a 38-yard run by Wiens set up first down at the Wildcat 12-yard line. Before the first-own snap, Cabot backed up 5 with an illegal procedure penalty. Cabot then set up a touchdown pass with a tight end release, but Oaks’ throw was too far. The Panthers then jumped again, setting up second and 20 from the 22. They tried a halfback pass, but Rogers’ throw floated and was short, allowing Bishop Foster to recover and intercept the ball in the end zone.

The Wildcats then drove 80 yards for another score, this time with the help of a penalty for a late hit out of bounds after a 19-yard scramble by Holly. That set up a short pass from Holly to Taliq Ellis for a touchdown with 4:28 left in the half.

Cabot then lined up off sides twice on the extra point, moving the ball inside the 1-yard line, and prompting Wildcat coach Scott Reed to go for two, which they converted easily for the 21-10 lead.

The Panthers got a needed touchdown before the half. A good return by Rogers made it a short field at the Cabot 43. Oaks, Wiens and Adam Flores runs got Cabot to the Wildcat 31. An option pitch to halfback Bradley Morales set up first and goal at the 9. After an El Dorado penalty for off sides, Rogers got the 4-yard run on the dive play to cut the deficit to 21-17 by halftime.

El Dorado rolled up 444 total yards of offense, including 291 through the air and 153 on the ground. Cabot had 341 total yards, all on the ground. The Panthers were 0 for 4 with one interception in the passing game.

Wiens led Cabot with five carries for 85 yards and a score. Rogers had 8 carries for 78 yards and one touchdown, while Shurley had 4 for 55 yards and a score.

Holly completed 17 of 23 pass attempts for 240 yards, while Hicks completed one halfback pass for 51 yards.

Levingston led Wildcat receivers with four catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns. Greene had seven receptions for 105 yards and a score.

Cabot (1-1) will host J.A. Fair next week while El Dorado (2-0) is back home against Magnolia.

SPORTS STORY >> Sylvan Hills batters HSL Rams by 26

Leader sports editor

The Sylvan Hills Bears bounced back from a disappointing opening week with a stellar home opener, battering the Rams of Hot Springs Lakeside 48-22 Friday at Blackwood Field in Sherwood.

Sylvan Hills scored the game’s first two touchdowns for a 14-0 lead. After Lakeside scored early in the second quarter, Sylvan Hills added three more touchdowns before halftime to take a 35-8 advantage into intermission.

The Bears got it first in the second half, and went up by 33 when Deon Youngblood ran the final 11 yards of the drive for a touchdown just 90 seconds into the third quarter.

The Bears were 5 yards away from mercy ruling the Rams after a blocked punt gave Sylvan Hills the ball at the Ram 5-yard line with a 41-8 lead. But Sylvan Hills fumbled it right back two plays later, setting up Lakeside’s best drive of the game.

The Rams went 88 yards, getting the last 47 on one pass play to make it 41-15 with 5:28 left in the third period. Sylvan Hills started from its own 38, and three-straight runs by Youngblood got the last 22 yards. Tito Mendoza’s extra point made it 48-15 with 2:47 left in the third quarter.

Lakeside got the final score of the game with 11:22 left in the fourth quarter against mostly backup defenders. The extra point set the final margin.

Each of the first two drives of the game ended in punts, Lakeside didn’t handle the Sylvan Hills punt, and the Bears covered the ball at the Ram 38. It was the first of several punt game mishaps by the visiting team throughout the game.

Sylvan Hills only got 3 yards on three plays, but converted on fourth and 7 when Ty Compton took a screen pass 9 yards to the 26-yard line.

Compton then took a handoff to the 5, and two plays later, Youngblood scored the first of six touchdowns on the night.

Sylvan Hills forced another three-and-out series by Lakeside. This time the punt snap was high. The Ram punter covered it, but it was still Bears’ ball at the Ram 26. Youngblood took it to the 10 before Compton caught another screen pass for the touchdown with 1:57 left in the opening quarter.

Lakeside got behind on the chains again on its next drive, but converted on second and 15 to the 43-yard line. Running back Michael James then broke loose for a 57-yard touchdown run and added the two-point conversion to make it 14-8 just 42 seconds into the second period.

Sylvan Hills answered right back. After a good kick return, the Bears faced fourth and 2 at the 45-yard line. Youngblood then spun out of one tackle and raced 55 yards for the score with 9:46 left in the half.

Lakeside was forced to punt on the next drive, and again had trouble. Another high snap forced a running kick that traveled nowhere and bounced backwards. The Bears took over on the Ram 16-yard line and scored on the first play of the drive. It was Youngblood again, this time on the screen pass for a 28-8 Sylvan Hills lead with 7:25 to go in the half.

Lakeside had a nice drive from its own 16 to the Sylvan Hills 11 before things went awry. Truitt Luth and Anthony Chairez got into the Ram backfield for a 4-yard loss. A fumbled snap lost another 4 yards, and safety Darius Waddell picked off the third-down pass in the end zone for a touchback.

Two plays picked up 8 yards to the 33 before Youngblood got loose again, this time for 67 yards and another touchdown. Mendoza’s PAT made it 35-8 going into the break.

Youngblood had 18 carries for 256 yards and five rushing touchdowns. He also caught three passes for 28 yards and one score.

The Bears (1-1) host archrival Jacksonville (1-1) next Friday.

Friday, September 08, 2017

TOP STORY >> Councils set election date

Leader staff writer

“I like steak, lobster and I’m from Texas, but I don’t drink,” said Jacksonville Alderman Jim Bolden. “As a reverend I preacher against drinking every Sunday, but as an alderman I have to look at the totality of the issue, and the city needs the revenue.”

Bolden was speaking about an ordinance the council setting a Nov. 14 election to allow “alcohol by the drink.”

It passed unanimously.

Sherwood also unanimously passed a similar ordinance 90 minutes earlier.

Dr. John Price who is heading the committee working for the passage of the new liquor law told the council, “This is a historical date. Tonight you are dealing with a 60-year bill that has had such a negative effect on Jacksonville, and the upcoming election can rectify it.”

Price went on to say it was now the committee’s job to go out and inform and educate the voters.

Realtor Daniel Gray, who serves as board president of the Jacksonville-North Pulaski School told the council, “This bill, this election is about restaurants. It’s very narrow in scope. It is not about bars, liquor stores or convenience stores.”

State Rep. Bob Johnson, one of the legislators who helped allow the vote, told the council he didn’t want Jacksonville to be the forgotten city between Sherwood and Cabot. “We’ve got to get rid of barriers like this.”

The ordinance passed by both cities set Tuesday, Nov. 14 as the election date to decide the “question of authorization of alcoholic beverages for on-premise consumption within the designated and identified territories outlined therein.”

That designated area – the defunct the Gray Township – includes about 90 percent of Jacksonville and 50 percent of Sherwood, which are dry because of votes in 1954 and 1956.

Gray made it clear that his family is not related to the Gray Township family.

LaConda Watson, another school board member and director of the Boys and Girls Club call the need for “alcohol by the drink” and economic growth need. “It’s about our quality of life and improving the city. It would bring in jobs, which would bring in more tax money, which would give us a more opportunities to improve education.”

Karen Abramson, one of the owners of Double R Florist, said, “It means more jobs and revenue. Let’s keep it all here.”

In Jacksonville, the dry area encompasses some of the most otherwise desirable land restaurant chains are looking at, according to the mayor, and is roughly bordered by Maddox Road to the north, the county line to the east, the Bayou Meto to the west and Wooten Road to the south.

By going wet, restaurants would be able to serve alcohol without having to go through the rigors of being a private club as early as this fall.

TOP STORY >> Supreme Court hears GIF case

Leader senior staff writer

Thursday, in the first case argued after summer recess, Arkansas Supreme Court justices grilled former Jacksonville state Rep. Mike Wilson and three other attorneys as the court ponders the constitutionality of using “surplus” general improvement funds to fund local projects.

Wilson’s appeal was of a narrow November ruling by Circuit Judge Chris Piazza, which found that making GIF grants to local organizations through planning and development districts was constitutional.

The points of contention in Wilson’s appeal were whether or not the GIF grants were unconstitutional as local legislation, whether or not Wilson had standing to bring the suit and if so, if it were a moot point because the money was all spent.

Going to the issue of constitutionality, according to Wilson and his attorney John Ogles, is the planning and development district’s lack of accountability regarding the grants. Plus, Ogles noted, the district itself received $119,000.

Piazza didn’t rule on findings of fact in Wilson’s suit, so they weren’t part of the appeal.

At least two justices suggested that an option might be to remand the case to Piazza for a finding of fact.

“Sam (Jones, attorney for the Central Arkansas Planning and Development District) and I agreed that remanding the case to Piazza would be a proper remedy, as suggested by Justice Robin Wynne,” Ogles said on Friday.

The $15 million distributed through Central Arkansas Planning and Development District and each of the seven other planning and development districts was from estate taxes and some carryover, and Wilson conceded he did not pay any estate taxes in that time frame.

But Justice Josephine L. Hart asked Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Merritt if the record showed where the carryover money came from originally. She said it didn’t, but that the onus to identify the source was on Wilson.

Merritt and Wilson, himself a former state representative and an attorney, answered questions well beyond their allotted 15 minutes, as did Jones and Wilson’s attorney John Ogles of Jacksonville, each of whom was allotted five minutes.

Wilson had thought the matter settled when, in 2007, Circuit Judge Willard Proctor ruled in his favor, finding the GIF grants unconstitutional and upon appeal, the state Supreme Court upheld that ruling unanimously.

But by 2014, legislators believed that they found a way around the rule against local legislation by channeling the money through the state’s eight planning and development districts, then enacting the will of the individual legislators, instead of the old way — direct appropriation.

Planning and development district boards, made up of mayors and county judges, made the final decisions, but acceded to the wishes of legislators. State representatives were allowed to designate $70,000 worth of grants each and $285,000 for state senators.

Wilson calls the workaround essentially a money-laundering scheme.

Grant applications are made from, for instance, volunteer fire departments, libraries, community centers, softball complexes and church colleges.

“Nobody’s against Meals on Wheels,” Wilson has said, “but GIF grants are not the way to do it.”

Wilson argued for restitution to the state treasury if the court rules the grants unconstitutional.

Merritt argued that restitution is not an available remedy if state agencies and officials acted in good faith in making those grants.

In most instances, the court will rule in about two weeks, according to Jones.

“It was one of the most extensive oral arguments I’ve ever seen,” Jones said. “They went well beyond the allotted time.”

He suggested a ruling may take longer than usual.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Keeping ball a focus for Bears

Leader sports editor

The Sylvan Hills Bears have their home opener this Friday against Hot Springs Lakeside. The Rams have changed focus offensively from a primarily passing offense to more of a power running scheme, but the Sylvan Hills coaching staff is focusing heavily on fixing the problems that arose in their Week 1 drubbing by Catholic High.

The Bears addressed turnovers after committing four in one half in its scrimmage with Greenbrier on Aug. 21, but they committed four more in the 44-7 loss on Friday. Catholic returned one of its two interceptions for a touchdown, and also had a 99-yard kickoff returned for a touchdown by Samy Johnson.

“It was about as bad as I’ve ever had a team play,” said Sylvan Hills head coach Jim Withrow. “I really didn’t get too upset about it. When you go back and look, it’s all correctable stuff. I hate to say we weren’t ready, but we just didn’t play very well. It wasn’t good. I know that.”

Lakeside also lost its first game, falling 40-21 to Joe T. Robinson on Aug. 28, also at War Memorial Stadium. That game was full of chippy play, personal fouls and ejections.

Withrow isn’t sure it was indicative of the team his squad will face on Blackwood Field this Friday.

“Here’s what I could tell,” Withrow said. “Their running backs are very good. The offensive line looks like it’s very good. In the past they’ve thrown it around, but it looks like they’re more power run now. Defensively they come hard. They have six in the box and there’s always and stunt and a blitz on. We really struggled with it in the first half last year. Came back in the second half and then had to block a field goal at the end to win it. It’s going to be tough. We need to play a whole lot better than we did last week.”

Despite the poor outing in game one, Withrow is optimistic about this team’s potential.

“Even in that one, when it was 24-7, I felt like if we score here, we’re going to win the game,” Withrow said. “But we turned it over. I never really felt like we were out of it until late. We helped them down the field with penalties and missed tackles on their first drive. Then we go down and score. Then we kick it right to the guy we said all week we weren’t going to kick it to. So in a game that’s going to be a knockdown, dragout, we basically spot them 14 points.
“But I’ll be honest with you. I think in a couple weeks, we’re going to be a lot better football team than we were that night. It’s a great group of kids that work hard and listen and learn. They’re not going to keep making the same mistakes.”

SPORTS STORY >> Jacksonville wary of revved Rockets

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Titans play their first home game of the football season when they host the Catholic Rockets. Both teams are coming off Week 1 victories. The Rockets utterly dismantled Sylvan Hills 44-37 at War Memorial Stadium. Jacksonville picked up a 25-21-road victory over Mills University Studies.

Jacksonville coach Barry Hickingbotham knows Catholic High presents a different sort of challenge from Mills, and a tougher one.

“They’re just solid all over the field,” Hickingbotham said. “They’re athletic, good size. They’re fundamentally sound, don’t make mistakes. It’s going to take a near perfect effort on our part.”

Catholic’s junior running back Samy Johnson is becoming a heralded Division I recruit since his sterling sophomore season. Last Friday, he picked up right where he left off last season. He only had 11 carries against Sylvan Hills, but he averaged more than12 yards per carry. He ran for 139 yards and two touchdowns, and also had a 29-yard kickoff return, and a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

Hickingbotham has a special plan for how to stop No. 1.

“I think we’re going to sneak somebody into the locker room and steal his cleats,” Hickingbotham said. “He could be the best running back in the state. I don’t think we’re going to see anybody else on our schedule with one like him, and we’ve got a lot of athletic teams on our schedule.”

Jacksonville went to War Memorial Stadium last year and lost 31-6. It was one of only three wins all season for Catholic, which plays in the brutal 7A-Central. Still, the Rockets advanced to the playoffs, and gave perennial powerhouse Bentonville all it could handle in a 38-31 loss, despite losing Johnson to injury in the first half.

This year’s Rocket squad is not as big as that huge team last year, but Hickingbotham thinks they’re better.

“They’re not huge like last year,” Hickingbotham said. “But they’re much faster. They rally. That defense rallies to the football. We’re going to have to hold onto our blocks a little bit longer, a little bit better than we did. Looking at film, I see some things, some opportunities I think we’re going to have. It’s just going to come down to executing. We’ve got to be perfect.”

Jacksonville took good care of the football last week. One huge turnover on the Mills 1-yard line cost the Titans a chance to take the home team out of the game. But even that was a dubious one, according to Hickingbotham.

“I’m not sure,” Hickingbotham said. “It looked like the play was over. Even on film you can’t see the fumble. If it was a fumble it was a second effort sort of thing. Shawn Ellis ain’t going down on first or second contact hardly ever. He grinds for us. You love handing the ball to a kid like that and we’re going to do it plenty.”

Ellis carried 23 times for 130 yards last week.

Quarterback Harderrious Martin had five carries for 83 yards and two touchdowns, splitting time with junior Shavarious Curley at quarterback and in the defensive backfield.

Curley was solid at quarterback as well, but struggled on defense. Jacksonville gave up several long passes as the Comet receivers continually got behind the Titan defense.

“What I liked about Curley is that he was able to put those defensive mistakes behind him, and didn’t let it affect his play on offense,” Hickingbotham said. “He did a good job for us. He led us down the field at the end. We had a good drive there to run out the clock and finish off the game. He made some good reads. We didn’t ask him to throw it a lot, but he was on target for the most part. That was encouraging because we’re going to need him.”

Hickingbotham was especially pleased with the play of the defensive line, which will be particularly important next week in trying to stop the Rocket running game.

“Those four got after it,” Hickingbotham said. “(Kalon) McCoy was a difference maker in there. We felt good about him and (Marquez) Casey. But Marcus Etherly was in there playing real well. And Marquis Rollins on the weak end, he’d never played before. He’s just a great kid wanting to be involved, never been in the trenches like that and he did a great job.

“Those four guys ran the line, filled the gaps, put pressure on the quarterback. It was great effort and we’re going to need it again this Friday.”

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers prepare for large Wildcats

Leader sports editor

Halftime adjustments and smarter, less careless football resulted in a big turnaround that led to a come-from-behind win for the Cabot Panthers last week in Pine Bluff. Now for the home opener, the Cabot faces a very similar opponent in the El Dorado Wildcats this Friday at Panther Stadium.

El Dorado took care of Camden-Fairview 29-7 in its season opener, and brings an experienced offensive line, a dynamic duo of quarterbacks and a pair of bruising running backs into its week two contest at Cabot.

Cabot defensive coordinator Randall Black, who’s defensive gave up just 34 total yards in the second half of last week’s 20-12 win over the Zebras, says El Dorado presents a whole new set of challenges.

“They do a lot more stuff,” Black said of El Dorado’s balanced offensive scheme underhead coach Scott Reed, who used to play for Malham when he was an assistant for Scott Reed’s father, Bill Reed, at Jacksonville.

“They may not have Pine Bluff’s speed on the outside, but the running backs are strong. You’re going to have to put something on them to bring them down. And they got that O line back that’s about 250, 250 and 350. So that’s a challenge.”

Putting something on them is one thing Black thought his defense did well against the Zebras.

“Everything we gave up was mental breakdowns,” Black said. “That’s something we’re going to get better and better at. The kids gave great effort. They hustled and I thought won the hitting game. We were making some hits out there and I thought we were more physical than they were.”

Those mental breakdowns were largely fixed at halftime, according to Black.

“Almost all the mistakes were in the first half,” Black said. “We didn’t pick up the pitch man on their first touchdown. The touchdown pass they got was a busted assignment also, so both scores were mental mistakes. A lot of times on defense, if you hustle, you can overcome mistakes. You can’t gripe about our effort. But now we have to put everything together.”

The Cabot offense did some good things in the first half, but it also made some mistakes that hurt drives.

The Panthers were moving the ball early when a 15-yard chop block penalty put them behind the chains. The second drive ended on a fumbled handoff exchange that led to Pine Bluff’s first touchdown. There was also a dropped pass that likely would have resulted in a touchdown.

Still, running lanes weren’t opening up, so Cabot made some changes at halftime.

“We found some creases in the second half,” said head coach Mike Malham. “We changed a few blocking schemes, and of course, the more we take care of the football and hang onto it, that helps things, too.”

Cabot also continued its long tradition of blocking kicks. The Panthers blocked several last year, and senior Bryce Billings continued that on Friday, blocking the Zebras first extra-point attempt.

Junior Tommy Oaks, who never played quarterback until last spring, played very well for the first outing of his career, even changing plays at the line of scrimmage on a few occasions.

Malham said he had confidence in Oaks to do that.

“Sometimes you have to because you don’t know what they’re going to line up in,” Malham said. “Tommy played well. He’s come a long way. We drilled and drilled and drilled, and he’s gotten better and better. He couldn’t hold onto a snap when we first tried him out, but he’s worked hard and gotten better and better. And the good thing is, most of that backfield is all juniors. If they keep working like they have and continue to improve, they have a chance to be pretty good.”

One member of the offensive backfield that’s not a junior is senior fullback Adam Flores. He was workhorse last Friday as well. He carried 23 times for 127 yards, and they were all hard-fought yards. Malham was impressed with Flores’ resiliency.

“He got leveled a couple times,” Malham said. “Their middle backer was good, and I mean Adam just got KO’d. I thought we were going to lose him, but he bowed up and kept coming. He got better as the game went on. He’s a tough runner.”

El Dorado’s defense was also strong last week, holding CF to just 42 yards rushing the entire game.

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.”

EDITORIAL >> Cutting off GIF grants

The state Supreme Court on Thursday will hear arguments from former Jacksonville Rep. Mike Wilson and state agencies on the constitutionality of lawmakers using “surplus” revenue – General Improvement Fund, or GIF – for home district projects, which Wilson says are unconstitutional and rife with abuse. Let’s hope he wins and several state legislators will go to prison for lining their pockets with kickbacks from grant recipients.

Last November, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza ruled against Wilson, saying the distribution of GIF money by planning districts on behalf of individual legislators was legal. Cabot’s Renew Development Corporation, doing business as the Lonoke County Boys and Girls Club, was approved in 2015 for a $26,000 GIF grant to improve an existing building that would be used for a proposed community center.

But if Wilson wins on appeal, he’s hoping to have GIF funds granted through the Central Arkansas Planning and Development District ordered returned to the state treasury for other uses. Wilson has been a lone crusader against what he calls “a civil conspiracy against the Constitution.” We would have dropped the word civil. There’s nothing civil in ripping off millions of taxpayer dollars and lawmakers taking a commission for appropriating the so-called improvement grants.

But future GIF grants may prove to be a moot point, according to state Sen. Bob Johnson (D-Jacksonville). “It may never happen again,” said Johnson, alluding to three current or former state legislators in northwest Arkansas accused of accepting kickbacks or channeling GIF funds back to themselves.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars in state funds have gone to dubious programs in Fort Smith, Springdale and Bentonville sponsored by more than a dozen “small-government” legislators. Ecclesia College, with 150 students, received $710,500, while a group of treatment centers called Decision Point, Inc. received $746,000 — nearly $1.5 million on just two dubious projects.

The state Supreme Court could save the legislature from further embarrassment — and save taxpayers millions of dollars — by ending general improvement grants once and for all.

TO STORY >> Western theme at Lonoke show

Leader staff writer

“Who Shot the Sheriff?” is the question many will try to answer during the Lonoke County Museum’s comedy-murder mystery 6 p.m. Saturday at 215 SE Front St.

Tickets are $15 and $25 per couple. It is the museum’s biggest fundraiser of the year.

Sheriff Slim Pickens has been fatally shot in Old Town, a town so small everyone takes turns being the town drunk.

“There are all kinds of twists and turns with several suspects as a couple of strangers come to town,” museum director Sherryl Miller said.

“See if you’re more clever than the old gossip ladies with the clues left to solve the murder,” Miller said.

The table that solves the murder will win a prize. Some of the audience member will read from envelopes revealing who done it.

“Expect a fun time and lots of laughs,” Miller said.

Old Town has residents such as Deputy Dudley Doright, Roland Tumbleweed, Clyde Eastwood, Marshal Marshall, M.T. Jugs, Bertie Tommy Hawk, Blondie Goodnight, Smith N. Wesson, Emma Gambler, Lucky Fullhouse and others.

The event is western theme and attendees are encouraged to dress in western attire. The foods available are Get Along Little Doggies, cow chips and trail mix.

For more information, to read a part or to volunteer call 501-676- 6750.

The Lonoke County Museum and Genealogy Room are open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Admission to the museum is free.

TOP STORY >> Budget set for district at $36.4M

Leader senior staff writer

The Jacksonville-North Pulaski School Board on Tuesday evening approved the $36,389,480 preliminary 2017-18 budget, as recommended by Superintendent Bryan Duffie.

The board also heard a recommendation for a new middle school but took no action.

Based on estimated revenues of $40,391,832, the budget would leave a carryover of about $4 million for the next school year.

The approved budget is only two pages long, plus a pie chart, but district treasurer Tonya Weaver will plug all the line items until there is about a 250-page electronic document due to the state by Sept. 30, Duffie said.

The lion’s share of the budget would be $20,695,280 for salaries and benefits.

Debt-service payments on bonds financing the new high school and elementary and improvements will be $3.83 million.

The increased bond payments and step increases in teacher pay will be the only major differences from last year, Duffie said.

Based on the third-quarter enrollment of 3,865 students last school year and the foundation funding of $4,264.50 per student, state foundation funding to the district will be $16,482,030 this year.

Instead of spending about $19 million to renovate Jacksonville Middle School, the board should consider building a new middle school for about $23 million, according to former state Transportation and Facilities Director Charles Stein, now a consultant.

To get state matching funds, a new middle school should be included in the 2019-21 long-range facilities plan, Stein said, and the second new elementary school would be moved back to the 2021-23 long-range plan.

The state recommends that if a remodel costs more that 65 percent the cost of new construction, new construction is the better option.

In this case, a new middle school is projected to cost 81 percent the cost of a new school.

The board will discuss the possibility at a Sept. 26 training.

TOP STORY >> Johnson to run for mayor

Leader editor

State Rep. Bob Johnson (D-Jacksonville) announced Tuesday he will run for mayor of Jacksonville in November 2018.

He’ll be challenging Mayor Gary Fletcher, who said Tuesday he plans to seek re-election.

Johnson told a group of supporters gathered at his accounting practice’s office that his experience in the legislature the last three years and as a Pulaski County justice of the peace for more than a decade can benefit Jacksonville.

He thanked his wife, Laurie, for supporting him in his bid for mayor, which he called a life-changing decision for them.

“I’m walking away from my seat at the House of Representatives to run for mayor. I think Jacksonville needs some changes. Jacksonville has not changed in as positive a direction as it could. We lack unity. We don’t have a sense of direction. We don’t have Team Jacksonville.”

He called for greater cooperation between the city government and the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, which have been divided on some issues over the best way to pursue economic development.

Johnson also called civic groups to work together, envisioning the chamber, the Jacksonville NAACP, the Sertoma Club, the historical district, the Lions Club, the Rotary Club and the military museum.

“All of those aren’t working together towards one common goal. Oh, guess what, I’m a member of all of those. I’m proud to be a member of them, but it’s time we started looking at how we can, as a group, get to know each other, get to know our focus, go in a direction that’s going to make this a town that people want to be at, that want to stop at, that are glad they’re here,” he said.

Johnson said he wants people to feel a renewed sense of pride in their city.

He also pledged to make public safety a top priority. “I want us all to feel this is a safe town.

“I think we have a lot of work to do, but together we can make this change. We are poised to make a change.

“There’s a lot of desire for change, desire for unity and I don’t want our city council members to just sit there and say yes to what I say. I don’t know it all. I expect them to bring ideas and fight with me to make this city better.

“I expect we are going to see some changes that are positive and good, and Jacksonville’s going to be the city that we want it to be in the future,” he said.

Johnson said he helped stabilize Pulaski County’s finances when he first joined the quorum court.

Fletcher said he plans to seek a third full term. He became mayor in 2009 after longtime Mayor Tommy Swaim left office early. Fletcher defeated Alderman Kenny Elliott in a special election.

Fletcher survived two bitter races for re-election — one against Rizelle Aaron and another versus Fletcher’s own police chief, Gary Sipes, who attended Johnson’s campaign event Tuesday.

Others in attendance included Phillip Carlisle, John Hardwick, Jody Urquhart, John Sisk, Barry Jefferson, Reginald Ford and Tommy Tompkins.

Election filings won’t open for about six months, but Fletcher said he’s prepared for another campaign.

“There’s still work to be done. I think the national economy is getting better, and hopefully that will come down to the local level,” Fletcher said.

“I’ve got a job to do and for the next several months I’m going focus on doing my job and not on campaigning,” the mayor said.

Johnson, who is 63, was born in Jacksonville, where he graduated high school in 1971. He has a master of science in accounting from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and a bachelor of science in accounting from the University of Central Arkansas.

In the legislature, he has served on the Public Transportation Committee, the Aging, Children and Youth, Legislative and Military Affairs Committee and the Joint Committee on Public Retirement and Social Security Programs.

“We have to make some tough decisions. I’m prepared to do whatever it takes to make us go forward,” Johnson said.

“I’m not going to throw rocks at Gary. I think we need a different set of eyes and a different approach,” he said.