Leader Blues

Thursday, October 18, 2007

SPORTS >>Playoffs realized, Lonoke after title

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

A 43-14 win over struggling Mountain View last Friday may not have made anyone’s game of the week lists, but it did officially place the Lonoke Jackrabbits into the state playoffs for the first time in over five years. Lonoke, now an impressive 4-0 in the 4A-2 Conference, has enjoyed easy wins to down or upstart programs for the past two weeks, but that all ends this Friday.

The Jackrabbits will travel to Lee County to take on the Trojans this week. This matchup has made for some thrilling showdowns in recent years, including last year’s 42-40 win for Marianna after stopping a Jackrabbit two-point attempt late in the fourth quarter.

That game had major playoff implications, as will this year’s matchup. Marianna, now 4-2 overall and 3-1 in the 4A-2 Conference, is coming off its third-straight league win over Southside Batesville. The Trojans lost their opening division game against Newport, but are still alive for the conference championship, just like the ’Rabbits.

Lonoke coach Jeff Jones remembers last year’s shootout well, and is expecting more of the same this year. He says the chance for another thrilling shootout is a good one, but hopes that the Jackrabbit D can prevent it.

“It could very well turn into one,” Jones said. “If we can’t slow down their running game, they could score a lot of points. We have to be hard nosed when we go in there; we can’t let them go outside or inside on us. There’s no doubt that this is an important game for us. It’s going to be a hard-fought 48 minutes of football for whoever wins this.”

Now 4-0 in conference with three games remaining, the Jackrabbits are officially locked into the 4A state playoffs. Heber, Bald Knob, Mountain View and Southside Batesville are all too far down in the standings to catch up. Not only that, but Lonoke has already beaten each of those programs this season, holding any potential tie break that could arise if any of the teams were able to win out these last three weeks.

Jones says making it into the playoffs is a realization of a big goal for his team at the start of the season, but that they do not intend to rest on their laurels. While the fact that the ’Rabbits are clinched is 100 percent, their seed at this point could still be a No. 1 if they win out, or a No. 4 if they lose all three of their remaining games.

“That was one of our goals at the start of the year, and now that’s taken care of,” Jones said. “We’re working to improve our seed these next few weeks. We need to focus on each week. All of our focus is on Marianna this week, next week; we’ll focus on Stuttgart all week. That’s just the way we’re taking it.”

Jones says that team speed is a big concern heading into Friday. The Jackrabbits have enjoyed a speed advantage with nearly every opponent this season, but the Billy Saia-coached Trojans bring a number of their own speedy backs into the game. The head ’Rabbit also says that smaller opponents the past two weeks could give his squad a false sense of where they are.

“I’ve seen our team’s confidence growing each week,” Jones said. “Now you just worry about whether or not our defense has been tested enough the past couple of weeks. There are some question marks that we have there, so we will definitely have to step it up. One thing’s for sure, we’ll find out where we’re at after this Friday.”