Leader Blues

Saturday, September 20, 2008

SPORTS>>Rabbits rally behind trick play

Leader sportswriter

Clarence Harris’ only pass attempt and completion of the season so far couldn’t have come at a better time for Lonoke.

The Jackrabbits held on for a 41-38 win over Central Arkansas Christian on Friday at James B. Abraham Stadium. The lead changed hands a total of seven times, with Harris’ 35-yard halfback pass to Michael Howard with 1:20 left to play as the final straw in a furious shootout.

With 1:46 left and facing a 38-34 deficit, the ’Rabbits had little choice but to go to the one who had made most of the big grabs all night, even though he had been taken out of the mix by double-coverage from the CAC secondary for most of the second half.

That move paid off.

Howard pulled down 13-yard and 19-yard receptions from Rollins Elam to quickly get the ball down to the CAC 20, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty moved them back to the 35. That gave Lonoke first and 25, but Elam’s pitch to Harris threw the Mustang defense off, and Howard ran down the right sideline uncovered to pull down the winner.

Jackrabbits coach Jeff Jones was ecstatic after the game, and had plenty of praise for his oddly-named winning play.

“Dr. Pepper — it came through for us, baby,” Jones said. “That’s the name of that play. All night long, we had held them out in the first half, but they just started washing right through us in the second half, and we really didn’t have an answer.

“But a lot of it just frustrated us and we went back to our old selves. We threw the ball away and stuff like that instead of playing like we did in the first half. When they got the lead we realized that we needed to settle down, and we did. This is great. That’s the way championship teams are built right there.

Mustangs first-year coach Tommy Shoemaker didn’t have quite the same enthusiasm.

“They made the play,” Shoemaker said. “It comes down to making plays, and they made one more than we did. Coach Jones did a great job with them and had them ready to play. We had our opportunities and didn’t take advantage of them. You have to do that when you play a good team.”

After struggling through the first half, CAC found momentum to start the second half with a surprise onside kick to get possession at the Lonoke 49-yard line. The Mustangs capitalized seven plays later with a five-yard run by Jaalen Watkins that narrowed Lonoke’s lead to 27-21.

An interception by Cody Reese on the Jackrabbits ensuing drive kept the momentum going for the Mustangs, and Zach Cole cashed in with a 60-yard quarterback scramble that gave CAC a 28-27 lead.

The Mustangs had a shot to go up by two scores on their next drive, but had to settle for a 39-yard field goal by Bryan Ferguson to go up 31-27.

Harris’ big gainer for the night came on the ground with 4:01 left to play. Facing fourth and 2, Harris took the end-around give from Elam, and cut back to the right for a 56-yard touchdown run to give the Jackrabbits a 34-31 lead, its first of the second half.

CAC responded with a 24-yard touchdown scramble by Cole, leaving less than two minutes for the ’Rabbits to respond.

The ’Rabbits owned the first half. Quarterback Rollins Elam threw for 193 yards, and found Howard twice down the left side for long touchdown tosses. Harris had short runs to put the first two scores up for Lonoke, and Elam finished out the half with a 20-yard pass to Howard with 5:27 left in the second quarter, and another moments later from 27-yards out.

Both went down the left side, with the second score set up by an interception by Darius Scott at the Lonoke 26-yard line.

Double coverage by the CAC secondary took Harris out of the mix for the most part in the third and fourth quarters.

Elam finished the game 16 of 39 for 284 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Howard had 12 receptions for 263 yards and three touchdowns. Harris carried 10 times for 141 yards and three touchdowns, with one passing TD for 35 yards.

In all, the Jackrabbits had 547 yards of total offense.

For CAC, Cole ran 15 times for 136 yards and three touchdowns, and completed 18 of 26 pass attempts for 245 yards and a touchdown. The Mustangs had 505 yards of total offense.

The Jackrabbits are now 2-1, while the Mustangs fell to 1-2. Lonoke will begin 2-4A conference play next week at home against Heber Springs, which lost to Greenbrier 22-7. CAC will host Alma, a 46-21 loser to Springdale on Friday.