Leader Blues

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

SPORTS >>Wildcats' focus improves

Leader sportswriter

The Harding Academy Wildcats will try to reach the state semifinals for the first time since their championship season back in 2000 this week when they host Lafayette County Friday night at Harding University’s First Security Stadium in Searcy.The Wildcats had to work hard to advance to the third round, barely getting by Hector in a thrilling double-overtime win last week. Harding Academy coach Tommy Shoemaker is hoping the game this week will lead to a much less dramatic win for his squad.

“We certainly realize that we were fortunate to get a win last week without playing our best,” Shoemaker said. “I think our focus and concentration will be good this week because of it, though. A lot is at stake from now on, and if you want to advance, you have to play well on Fridays.” The Cougars are much improved from the start of the season. After barely fighting their way into post season play with a regular season record of 6-4, they have advanced further than anyone thought possible with hard-fought wins over Lamar and Lake Village to put themselves into the quarterfinals.

It will be a tough road for Lafayette this week. The almost three-hour trip from the Arkansas-Louisiana border will be compounded this week with a short school week due to the Thanksgiving holiday. Shoemaker hopes the long journey will play to his team’s advantage, but says he’s not counting on it. “I feel fortunate that we don’t have to make that trip; it’s quite a haul,” Shoemaker said. “I really don’t know how all of that will play out. If it works out to our advantage, that’s great, but I wouldn’t be banking on it.”

Another variable for the Wildcats this week will be facing another spread team for the first time since week three when they played Arkansas Baptist. It will be only the second spread team that HA has faced this year, a stat that concerns Shoemaker.
“They are extremely athletic,” Shoemaker said. “They will be running the spread, which will be a little different for us, defensively. They have a receiver that is about 6’5” or 6’6” who is very athletic, and that scares me. We know we have our hands full with those guys; it’s going to be quite a challenge. They had some losses at the first of the year against Bauxite and some other good teams, but they seem to be a lot better now. We know we are not catching them at a good time, but that’s just part of it in the playoffs. Everybody is playing well right now.”

Shoemaker doesn’t see playing another spread team as an advantage or disadvantage. He says it is all in what caliber athletes the opponent possesses, rather than what type of scheme they run. “It just depends on how good they are,” Shoemaker said. “A lot of it depends on the athletes they have. With Hector, their style seems to be what hurts us the most, due to our lack of size. I hope that won’t be true this week.” Lafayette County coach Phillip Binkley is also weary of the Wildcats spread. The Cougars have seen even less spread opponents this year. Lafayette lost to Prescott in week seven, the only spread opponent they have seen this season to date.

“Harding is really the first true spread team for us this year,” Binkley said. “Prescott did a variation of it, but they also ran out of it quite a bit. I think that running the spread ourselves helps; we have similar styles, but that helps them as well. It will just depend on who makes the least amount of mistakes.” Among Binkley’s biggest concerns is senior Wildcats QB Luke Tribble. One look at Tribble on film was enough for the head Cougar to question his squad’s ability to contain him.

“Their quarterback looks like a really good athlete,” Binkley said. “It doesn’t matter if he is in the pocket or split out, he is a threat either way, and that worries us.” The drive to Searcy from Lewisville is also a concern for Binkley. He says the staff is taking every measure to try and keep the team comfortable on the long trip, including using a charter bus. Kickoff for the game between the Wildcats and Cougars to decide who goes to the semis will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday at First Security Stadium in Searcy.