Leader Blues

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

SPORTS >>Jackrabbit defense too much for ’Birds

Leader sportswriter

A goal-line stand by the Lonoke defense late in the third quarter kept the Jackrabbits in the hunt for the 4A-2 Conference title, as the Jackrabbits held off Stuttgart 24-19 Friday night at James B. Abraham Field.

A score by the Ricebirds at that point would have put them up by two scores, but the ’Rabbits’ defense stood tall on fourth and inches at their own goal line. Stuttgart senior quarterback Seth Allison, who had proved to be tough for Lonoke to contain all night, tried a sneak for the score, but was met at the line by a swarm of purple jerseys to keep the Jackrabbits within one point at 19-18.

A blocked punt by Lance Jackson in the middle of the fourth quarter set up Lonoke with good field position on what would become the winning drive. Sophomore quarterback Jacob Taylor found Clarence Harris for a 28-yard touchdown pass with 6:24 left in the game to put the Jackrabbits back on top after losing the lead early on in the second half.

The Lonoke defense would have to contain the Ricebirds two more times, but it was up to the task.

The Jackrabbits forced a fourth down and 6 at the Stuttgart 47, and the Ricebirds lined up to punt. Instead of going to punter Nick Konecny, the ball was snapped to running back Tim Reams, who was in the up back position. Reams had several strong runs on the night, but this would not be one of them, as Brandon Smith and Kiefer Vaughn met him behind the line, forcing a turnover on downs.

Stuttgart had one final chance in the final 2:34 of the game, but couldn’t generate enough passing to steal the win. The Ricebirds took their final shot on fourth and 10 at the Lonoke 42-yard line, but Tad Hearington knocked Allison’s pass out of the air to secure the win for the Jackrabbits.

“We knew all week long that the defense would have to step up and be the difference in the game,” Lonoke coach Jeff Jones said. “We let them out on a few plays with some missed tackles and missed assignments that shouldn’t have happened in the first half. We challenged them at halftime and they came out and did an outstanding job for us.”

The big story on the night offensively for Lonoke was the on-field prowess of sophomore QB Taylor, who was playing in what was easily the biggest game of his life. He finished the game with 11 completions on 14 pass attempts for 183 yards and two touchdowns. Jones was not surprised by Taylor’s performance, or his confidence back in the pocket.

“That’s just Jacob’s nature,” Jones said. “He’s a laid back kid by nature. Last week against Marianna, we just stuck him in there, and he showed a lot of promise, but the pressure wasn’t really on us. We felt like we had something there, but we weren’t too sure. That’s why we went with Clarence early; we were trying to settle him down. He came off the bench and had a great game.”

Harris went under center during the Jackrabbits opening drive in the first quarter, and led the Lonoke offense into Stuttgart territory quickly. A 13-yard scramble by Harris put the ball at the Stuttgart 25-yard line. Harris then found Daniel Smith on a 24-yard pass play that gave the Jackrabbits first and goal at the 1. Smith’s grab was a spectacular one, keeping the tips of his toes just inside the line beside the right pylon to pull the ball in just before going out of bounds. Harris plowed into the end zone behind the Lonoke offensive line to put the ‘Rabbits on the board first with 6:20 left in the first quarter. Smith’s extra point attempt was too low, and the score would remain 6-0.

Stuttgart answered quickly, with a 40-yard touchdown run by Reams with 4:23 left in the opening quarter. Allison was stopped on a keep for the two-point try by Jackson and Terrance Miller to keep the score tied at 6 all.

Taylor began to see the field on his second drive at quarterback, connecting on three passes, one to Michael Howard and two to Smith, including a nine-yard touchdown toss on fourth and goal at the Stuttgart 9-yard line with 8:42 left in the first half. The score was set up with an earlier connection from Taylor to Smith good for 21 yards and a first down at the Ricebirds’ 8-yard line. A false start penalty pushed Lonoke back on its two-point attempt, and the ‘Rabbits were not able to convert.

Stuttgart would grab the lead in the middle of the second quarter on an 18-yard touchdown keeper from Allison. Konecny added the extra point, putting the Ricebirds up 13-12.

Lonoke would not go into the locker room trailing. The Jackrabbits took possession at their own 35-yard line, and a pair of runs by Harris took the ball to the 43. A holding call pushed the ball back 10 yards, but Lonoke got the yardage back on the following play. Taylor found Smith up the middle for a 15 yard pass play, to give the ‘Rabbits a first and 10 at the Lonoke 48.

Howard handled things from there, pulling in a 52-yard touchdown pass from Taylor on the following play when Stuttgart defender Reams fell as the ball was delivered. Howard pulled in the pass and strolled the rest of the way in for the score to make the halftime score 18-13 Lonoke.

Stuttgart’s final score of the night came on a 16-yard touchdown pass by Allison with 4:39 left in the third quarter. Allison put the Ricebirds in winning position on the next Lonoke drive when he intercepted a Taylor pass to give Stuttgart first and 10 at the Lonoke 22-yard line.

Allison would then put the ball in the red zone on a 15-yard scramble, but the Jackrabbit defense stood tall, stopping the Ricebirds QB just inches short of a score.

Harris’ 28-yard catch for the winning score was simply par for the course for the all-purpose junior standout, who had scores as both quarterback and receiver during the game.

Harris finished the game with 18 carries for 87 yards and one touchdown. He also had four receptions for 53 yards and another touchdown. Brandon Smith carried 10 times for 43 yards. Daniel Smith had six receptions for 104 yards and a touchdown and one fumble turnover. Howard finished with four receptions for 54 yards and a touchdown. The Jackrabbits finished with 358 total offensive yards. For Stuttgart, Allison had 16 carries for 134 yards and a touchdown, along with 8 of 17 pass completions for 84 yards and a touchdown.

Lonoke is now 7-2 overall and 6-0 in the 4A-2 Conference. They will play Newport, a winner over Heber Springs Friday night for the league title. Stuttgart fell to 7-2 overall and 4-2 in conference.