Leader Blues

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

SPORTS>>Shiloh showdown

Leader sportswriter

Friday night’s 4A state quarterfinal playoff game in Springdale between Lonoke and Shiloh Christian will pit a pair of teams with similarly balanced and high-powered offenses.

And that’s just the beginning of the similarities between the two state title contenders.

Both Jackrabbits (10-1) and Saints (10-1) went unbeaten and virtually unchallenged through their conferences to claim league titles, and both made quick work of their second-round playoff opponents after having a bye week in the opening round. The

Saints laid 84 on Clarksville last week, while Lonoke dispatched Warren, 45-24.

Each team has an abundance of playmakers who have captured attention around the state. Because the two teams appear to be so much alike, Shiloh Christian head coach Josh Floyd thinks the outcome will turn on fundamentals.

“I think it will definitely come down to mistakes and turnovers,” Floyd said. “When you have two evenly matched teams and both of them have good guys up at the front, it will almost always come down to who has turnovers and who can capitalize off them.”

Lonoke head coach Jeff Jones agreed, adding that the battle in the trenches could be key for his team.

“Everything starts at the line,” Jones said. “(Shiloh Christian has) dominated up front on both sides of the ball this year. They have strong players that can move well and sustain blocks. The battle up front will be important for us. If our offensive and defensive lines can go toe to toe with them and match their physical strength, I like our chances.”

Shiloh Christian started its season with a 47-9 loss to Evangel Christian out of Louisiana, but the rest of the year has been a breeze for the defending state runners-up. The most impressive victory in their 10-game winning streak may have been a 37-20 victory over Class 5A state champion Greenwood in Week 3.

The defense then dominated in an unblemished run through the 1-4A Conference. The Saints have allowed only 568 yards rushing all season.

“Our guys have been fortunate,” Floyd said. “We’ve had a great defensive line that gets good penetration. Our secondary has played well also, they haven’t given up any easy scores. We’ve made people earn what they get.”

Floyd hopes his defense can respond similarly against the Jackrabbits.

“Lonoke does a great job of spreading the ball around,” he said. “It’s kind of scary how effective they are with both the run and the pass. Their quarterback does an excellent job with the play action, and he has some great weapons to choose from.”

Lonoke has thrown for nearly 2,400 yards and rushed for nearly 2,000 more this season.

Quarterback Rollins Elam has 2,377 passing yards and 24 touchdowns on 138 of 261 pass attempts. Fellow senior Michael Howard is the leading receiver with 51 catches for 963 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Joel Harris has 599 yards and four touchdowns on 34 receptions, and Clarence Harris has 383 yards on 30 catches with six touchdowns.

Clarence Harris serves as Lonoke’s dual threat. He also has 790 yards rushing on 90 carries and 13 touchdowns. Junior tailback Brandon Smith is the Jackrabbits’ leading rusher this season with 894 yards and 10 touchdowns on 109 carries.

The Jackrabbits’ only loss of the year came in a 28-19 setback to Beebe in Week 2. That was followed by perhaps their biggest win of the year in a 41-38 win over Central Arkansas Christian.

Lonoke then enjoyed a domi-nant run through the 2-4A Conference. It all came down to a showdown with unbeaten Stuttgart in Week 9 for the league championship, and the Jackrabbits handed the Ricebirds their first loss of the year in a 41-22 blowout to claim the title outright.

Last Friday, the Jackrabbits pounced on Warren from the opening drive, taking their first possession 70 yards in 10 plays for an early 7-0 lead. They then converted two interceptions into scores, and answered the only Lumberjack score of the first half with a one-yard touchdown run by Brandon Smith to start the second quarter.

“I think our guys are pretty seasoned,” Jones said. “We’ve got some good senior leadership. They’re a pretty loose group. I don’t think they can be intimidated by anybody, no matter who they face. As a coach, it’s good to know you have a bunch of guys that believe in themselves.”

Two different quarterbacks lead the Spread assault for coach Floyd and the Saints. Sophomore David Matthews has completed 46 of 78 pass attempts for 1,082 yards, 13 touchdowns and only one interception. Kiehl Frazier has a 64 percent completion rate with 74 of 115 passing for 1,069 yards, 13 touchdowns and six interceptions.

“We pretty much keep it in the Spread,” Floyd said. “We can run or pass out of that package. There may be a few times we will line up a little different, but not much. We mostly stick with what we know.”

Frazier has also added 747 yards rushing on 112 carries for 12 more touchdowns. Junior Chris Bryant and Garrett Harper have combined for over 800 more yards, along with 11 touchdowns.

Zann Jones leads a talented group of receivers with 31 receptions for 477 yards and six touchdowns. Fellow sophomore Harper has 24 catches for 558 yards and eight touchdowns.

Jake Ryan is the lone senior in the Saints’ skill package. The wide receiver has 21 receptions for 390 yards and two touchdowns, while Jake Scott has 13 catches for 283 yards and two touchdowns and Bryant has 14 receptions for 166 yards and two touchdowns.

Clarksville took an early 7-0 lead last week before the Saints rolled off a staggering 12 straight touchdowns, racking up over 500 yards of offense in the first half, and finishing with 607 total yards.

“We have two major rules as a team,” Jones said. “The first is to never underestimate your opponents. The second is to never doubt yourself and your own abilities.”