Leader Blues

Saturday, November 08, 2008

SPORTS>>Lonoke cruise into playoffs with easy win

Leader sports editor

The Lonoke Jackrabbits proved a couple of things on Friday night.

One, it’s less important how long you control the ball than what you do with it when you have it and, two, the Rabbits are serious 4A state championship contenders.

The Jackrabbits finished off an unblemished 2-4A Conference campaign with a 35-7 lark past Clinton at James B. Abraham Stadium, piling up 407 total yards, despite having the ball for less than 18 minutes.

“I never think they’re easy,” said Lonoke head coach Jeff Jones. “But we were happy to be able to send the seniors out in the regular season with a win like that. That’s a good boost going into the playoffs.”

The Jackrabbits (9-1), who already clinched the conference title with an equally easy win over Stuttgart last week, will draw a bye in the opening round of the playoffs and await next Friday’s winner between Pulaski Oak Grove and Warren.

Each of Lonoke’s five scoring drives on Friday night took an average of 84 seconds, despite covering an average of 60 yards each. In other words, the Rabbits were in quick-strike mode against Clinton (4-6, 2-5). They got a couple of 100-yard performances from Brandon Smith and Clarence Harris. Harris needed just 11 carries to rack up 139 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Smith rushed eight times for 120.

“Brandon Smith is a load,” Jones said. “He’s a big kid who runs tough with 4.6 speed. And not many people know it but he’s an AP student, too. I knew last year as a sophomore, when we’d alternate him in there that he was going to be good. But we’ve had so many weapons that we could go to.

“This year, he’s really blossomed.”

Smith spent the night quickly hitting the holes, then dragging Yellowjacket tacklers along for the ride. Harris ran all over the field, sometimes cutting back two and three times and almost always finding a seam.

Meanwhile, quarterback Rollins Elam was as efficient as he had to be, completing 7 of 12 passes for 89 yards, all in the first half. Two of those completions went for touchdowns. The first one was a 29-yard post-pattern strike to Michael Howard that put Lonoke ahead 7-0 with 5:11 left in the first period.

He followed that with a 16-yard screen pass to Morgan Linton, who ran untouched into the end zone to make it 14-0 just 31 seconds into the second period. The Lonoke defense allowed Clinton almost nothing through the first half, surrendering only 83 yards in the first half.

“The whole team has steadily improved all year long,” Jones said. “But the defensive improvement has been the most significant thing. Starting last offseason, we wanted to be a more physical team. And I still think we can get better.

“But the defense totally shut them down. I’m really excited about how that bunch has played, especially going into the playoffs.”

Harris capped off a 5-play, 56-yard drive with a 19-yard touchdown run on a counter play that put the Jackrabbits up 21-0 at intermission.

Twenty-two seconds into the second half, all Clinton hopes of a comeback were dashed when Harris swept left, then cut right and outraced a host of Clinton defenders for a 49-yard touchdown. Eric Graydon tacked on the final Lonoke touchdown when he busted tackles and weaved through defenders on a 23-yard touchdown gallop to make it 35-0.

Sam King was good on all five extra points.

Clinton scored its only touchdown on a 2-yard run midway through the final period against Lonoke’s second-team defense.

Clinton finished with 219 yards. The Rabbits, whose only blemish came against Beebe in Week 2, have now won eight straight and can rest up a week to prepare for the second round of the 4A state playoffs. Jones feels pretty good about his team’s momentum going in.

“I think we’ve got an air about us,” he said. “We know what we have to get done. It’s nothing bordering on cockiness. We know there are a lot of teams out there that can send us home. But we’ve come to practice all year and worked hard and it’s paying off on Friday nights.”