Leader Blues

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

SPORTS>> Rhinos get defensive in beating Blast

Leader sports editor

MEMPHIS — The Arkansas Rhinos made their season opener a special one on Saturday in Memphis.

Or, more accurately, a special teams one.

The Rhinos returned a punt and an interception fortouchdowns and picked off three passes in pasting the Memphis Blast 34-7 at Hank’s Field.

“The funny thing is, I’m aspecial teams coach,” said fifth-year head coach Oscar Malone. “The whole defense did a wonderful job.”

No one was better than middle linebacker Enrico Wilkins, who led the way with 15 total tackles — 12 solo. Ken Thompson added eight. Wilkins earned game defensive MVP for his efforts.

“It was between him and Jermaine Kornegay,” Malone said. “Both played a very impressive game.”

Kornegay picked off two passes.

Garrett Morgan put the Rhinos on top with a 17-yard field goal in the first quarter, but the Blast responded with a 29-yard touchdown pass to take its only lead of the game with 4:35 left.

But former Arkansas Baptist quarterback Josh Dixon put the Rhinos ahead for good on Arkansas’ next drive when he hit Morgan for a 12-yard touchdown.

The Rhinos padded the lead on Tony Phillips’ 8-yard touchdown run to make it 17-7.

Though the Rhinos were playing without Ben and Sam Witchers in the secondary, the defensive backfield did a good job on Saturday by picking off three passes. Robert Jemerson returned an interception for a touchdown.

Former Henderson State University wideout Lance Smith capped the Rhinos’ scoring with a 41-yard punt return.

“We went over and scouted (the Blast) a week earlier so we kind of learned their strengths and weaknesses,” Malone said of
Memphis’ season-opening loss to Kansas City. “We felt a lot better about things after that.”

Morgan was named the Rhinos offensive MVP for the game, while Smith picked up the special teams honor.

The Rhino offense totaled 388 yards. Phillips rushed 17 times for 87 yards; Sam Wood picked up 39 yards on eight totes, and Shannon Rhea rushed six times for 42 yards.