Leader Blues

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

SPORTS >>Speed concerns Gravette

Leader sports editor

The Gravette Lions are on cruise control right now, but a week off and a very unfamiliar opponent should be enough for the host team of Friday’s second round state playoff game to be at attention. Gravette hosts Lonoke this Friday in the playoffs, and the head Lion isn’t banking on his team’s eight-game winning streak carrying over to nine.

“Lonoke has some speed and athleticism in spots that we haven’t seen this year,” Gravette coach Bill Harrelson said. “The teams we’ve been playing just aren’t as athletic as they are. They do a good job of spreading the field and get that speed in open spaces. They just make people miss tackles and we haven’t seen much of that.”

While Harrelson bemoans the task ahead of his squad, he also recognizes that his squad is on quite a run.

The Lions are 9-1 and have not lost since a week-two, 49-14 shellacking by Shiloh Christian. The first four weeks of the season were the worst defensively for Gravette. Since then, the Lions have not given up more than two scores in any game. In week 10, Gravette held perennial conference power Prairie Grove to two touchdowns, and none in the second half.

“That was the game where I thought our defense really came to realize its potential,” Harrelson said. “Defensively we’ve played very well the last several weeks, but that game, holding them to nothing in the second half, that was a big thing. Praire Grove is a great offensive team, just like they proved last week.”

The Lions also run the spread, and like Lonoke, like to run out of the formation as much, if not more, than pass.

Tailback Teddy Selby is Gravette’s biggest offensive weapon. He has over 1,000 all-purpose yards this season. He has rushed for 895 yards and has 135 yards receiving. Frankie Walburn is the team’s leading receiver with 13 touchdowns. Delivering the ball to those offensive weapons is junior quarterback Ethan McKinzie. McKinzie has thrown for over 1500 yards so far this season, while the Lions have rushed for over 2200.

They have mercy ruled five of their last eight opponents, which prompted Harrelson to confess that many of those rushing yards came after the passing game created big leads.

“We did run it a lot in the second half of those games,” Harrelson said. “Not much by Selby though. He hasn’t been on the field late in those big wins. His numbers are legitimate.”

Lonoke has struggled at times defensively, especially against strong running teams like Newport. Gravette isn’t similar to Newport, and Harrelson expects trouble from the Rabbit defense, particularly from the ends.

“I think their defensive ends are tremendous players,” Harrelson said. “51 and ?? both look like great athletes. And number 45 is also someone you had better account for.”

Still, the primary concern for Gravette will be containing Lonoke’s speed. Harrelson pointed out two very big concerns by name.

“Harris and Howard are the ones we’re really worried about,” Harrelson said. “If they get into the open field, they’re going to be hard for us to tackle. We’re going to have to make sure we keep them hemmed in, especially early. Things will be real tough for us if we get behind a team like that. We’re going to have to run the ball successfully to have a chance to win. We don’t want to get into a situation where we have to pass. So keeping those guys hemmed up will be a big key for us.”