Leader Blues

Friday, August 29, 2008

SPORTS>>Fans should be in for treat at UAPB

Leader sports editor

Whatever you pay for your ticket to the Lonoke-Dumas game, chances are you’ll get your money’s worth.

Two high-powered, explosive and fleet Class 4A teams — one with state title hopes, the other with a lot of question marks — open their seasons on Monday afternoon at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. Kickoff for the expected track meet is 4:30.

“It should be a good game,” said third-year Lonoke head coach Jeff Jones, whose Jackrabbits are picked to contend for a state title. “We’ve been picked pretty high and we hope to live up to our part.”

Those lofty expectations are the result of returning 17 starters, including a bevy of talented receivers and an experienced strong-armed quarterback, from last season’s 8-4 club.

Dumas also enjoyed success in 2007, reaching the quarterfinals of the state playoffs. But the Bobcats are having to fill a lot of positions after the loss of 18 starters. Gone is all-state quarterback Kendall Council and all-state running back Justin Jones.

But the cupboard is hardly bare.

“They’ve got a lot of speed and a lot of size,” Jones said. “They have a big defensive line and a huge middle linebacker. They’ll present us with a lot of problems.”

The biggest challenge may be trying to find a way to stop the Bobcats 6-5 quarterback in sophomore Darion Griswold, who has a rocket launcher for an arm.

“He can throw the ball 70 yards,” Jones said. “They’re going to try to stretch the field on us.”

And though the Bobcats lost a bunch of skill players last season, they have a talented young corps of receivers. Junior Aaron Dennis is one who has experience, but Dumas can call on a group of sophomores who can fly. None are faster than Ja’Vondrick Cobbs, who has been timed at 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

When Jones talks about Dumas’ size advantage, he’s mostly referring to a pair of 300-plus-pound defensive linemen in junior Jonathan Hilson and Mantrell Ward. But the Bobcats also have some size on the offen sive line as well as an all-conference front man in Taylor Lock.

The Bobcats will run out of the Spread and will try to hit the Jackrabbits deep, but Jones cautions that Dumas also has a pair of quick backs as well.

But the Bobcats should be sorely tested themselves in trying to stop the experienced and fluid Jackrabbit attack. Dumas surrendered 134 points over its final three games last year and lost nine starters from that unit.

Lonoke rallied from an 0-2 start in 2007 to win seven consecutive. Quarterback Rollins Elam went down in Week 8 against Marianna. Despite that, the ’Rabbits were able to beat Clarksville in the opening round of the playoffs before falling to Gravette. Elam is back as is all-conference flanker Clarence Harris, who compiled 1,500 all-purpose yards last fall.

Harris is just one of many options for Elam, including Michael Howard, Lance Jackson and Terrell Washington, who Jones said showed remarkable improvement in the spring.

Lonoke suffered a blow when center Dylon Elmore twisted his ankle and will miss three weeks.

“When you run the shotgun (Spread), that’s almost like losing your quarterback,” Jones said.

Guard Tyler Breashears will move to the center position while Nick Head will move from the defensive line to the offensive line.
The battle with the Bobcats is the first of four tough games in the Jackrabbits’ brutal opening schedule. In the following three weeks they will take on Beebe, CAC and Heber Springs. Jones relishes the challenge.

“We’re looking forward to playing those teams,” he said. “It’s going to make us a better football team in the long run.”