SPORTS>> Rabbits crowned
STUTTGART – How tough is Lonoke’s defense? Just ask Ricebirds quarterback Zach Boleware.
The Jackrabbits picked off the junior twice in the first quarter, returning both for touchdowns and sacked him five times en route to a 41-22 win at Ned Moseley Stadium on Friday. The win clinched the 2-4A Conference championship for Lonoke (8-1, 6-0 conference).
“I’m thrilled to death for these guys,” Lonoke coach Jeff Jones said. “Our defense set the tone for us with those two big plays there in the first half. They did a great job of shutting down Boleware. We’ve preached to them all year about winning those one-on-one battles.”
The Lonoke defense held Stuttgart’s offense to a dismal 42 yards in the first half.
Brandon Smith lit up the Ricebirds (8-1, 5-1) on both sides of the football. He picked a Boleware pass at the 38 second mark of the opening quarter and returned it 50 yards to put Lonoke ahead 21-0. Smith scooped the ball out of the intended receiver’s hands and took it untouched for the score.
He did his damage on the offensive side of the ball in the second half with a pair of long touchdown runs to put the game out of reach. His first score was a 41-yard run on the second play of the third quarter to set the mercy rule in motion, and his second one was a 51-yard run up the middle to start the fourth quarter to put Lonoke up 41-8 with 9:52 left.
The Jackrabbits wasted little time claiming dominance, taking their first offensive play 63 yards for a score with a pass from senior quarterback Rollins Elam to a completely uncovered Clarence Harris. Harris ran a fly pattern up the middle, and had nothing but clean field when Elam hit him on the numbers. Sam King hit his first of five point-after attempts for an early 7-0 Lonoke lead.
The Ricebirds punted to end their first two possessions, but began to find space midway through the first quarter on the strength of Boleware and running back Corey Racy.
They marched down to the Lonoke 32-yard line before an illegal block moved them back 10 yards. Boleware looked for ace receiver Cody Burnett in the red zone, and Darius Scott read the pass all the way. Scott pulled down the pass and hit the left side for an 83-yard interception return with 2:27 still left in the first quarter to make it 14-0.
Smith’s pick and score came on the following Stuttgart possession, and the Ricebirds shot themselves in the foot once again before the first quarter ended on a fumble that was recovered by Todd Hobson.
Joel Harris got in the mix for the Jackrabbits’ final scoring drive of the first half with a pair of receptions. The second one was a 14-yard touchdown pass from Elam with 8:32 left in the second quarter to set the halftime margin.
The first Lonoke drive of the second half was all Smith, literally. Lonoke took possession at its own 34, and Smith quickly brought the ball into Stuttgart territory with a 25-yard run on first down. He then went untouched up the middle on the next play for a 41-yard touchdown. King added the extra-point to put Lonoke up 35-0, activating the mercy rule with 11:28 left in the third quarter.
“Brandon Smith is a football player,” Jones said. “He made plays on both sides. He’s done an outstanding job all year, and the best part is, he’s just a junior.”
The win marked the second straight over Stuttgart, and gave the Jackrabbits their first outright conference title since 2000.
“It’s definitely big,” Jones said. “It’s big for these kids, it’s big for the community and everyone that supports us.”
Elam was 8 of 16 passing for 144 yards and two touchdowns. Smith led the way on the ground with 127 of Lonokes’s 133 rushing yards, including a pair of touchdowns. Clarence Harris led all receivers with three receptions for 87 yards and a touchdown. Joel Harris added 36 yards and a touchdown on two catches. Lonoke had 277 yards of total offense and five first downs.
For Stuttgart, Boleware was 4 of 10 passing for 67 yards and two interceptions. He also had 27 yards rushing on 16 carries.
Racy had 10 carries for 60 yards and all three Ricebird scores. Stuttgart finished with 194 yards of total offense, 152 of which came in the second half.
Lonoke will end the regular season next week with a home game against Clinton. The Yellowjackets lost to Heber Springs 35-18 on Friday. Stuttgart will be the No. 2 seed out of the 2-4A Conference, and will end the regular season at Marianna Lee.