Leader Blues

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

SPORTS >> Tune-up time is running out in third week

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

Week 3 is the final chance for coaches to fine-tune their teams before conference season begins, and some of our local teams need a lot of it. Cabot is one that already appears to be tuned up, and will have some light work ahead this week before jumping into the 7A Central fire at home against Conway next Friday.

Jacksonville found itself some momentum with a big victory over Vilonia last week, and hopes to make it 2-0 at home this week versus Mills. North Pulaski will have its hands full with one of the top high school running backs in the nation this week, and Sylvan Hills will try to stay alive through one more week in its brutal non-conference schedule.

Beebe and Lonoke each have shootouts in front of them with Vilonia and CAC respectively, while Harding Academy hosts an offensively dynamic Arkansas Baptist team. Searcy has shown some impressive defensive muscle early on, and the Riverview Raiders look to go 3-0 against a tough Harrisburg team this week.

The vast and diverse Leader prediction panel went 5 of 7 in our picks last week. Let’s see how the final week of non-conference picks go.

JACKSONVILLE 34, LITTLE ROCK MILLS 30

The 2009 season is beginning to look like a mirror image of last year for Mark Whatley’s Red Devils: A hard loss to Cabot to start the season, followed by an inspiring victory over Vilonia in Week 2. That may not be good if you look at the 31-19 setback they suffered at the hands of the Comets last year.

But that was at Mills Stadium. This year’s contest will be right here at Jan Crow, which means the Red Devils will have the JHS faithful behind them. That will be enough for Jacksonville to even the score.

LITTLE ROCK CHRISTIAN 39, NORTH PULASKI 10

There are only two words you need to know about this game — and those are Michael and Dyer. The bruising 5-9, 210-pound senior running back for the Warriors has already picked up 527 yards rushing in two games, and needs only 1,000 more to become the state’s all-time leading rusher in high school. We just hope he doesn’t pick all of those yards up against our rebuilding Falcons this week.

CABOT 42, AT LITTLE ROCK HALL 0

Seriously?

NORTH LITTLE ROCK 31, SYLVAN HILLS 7

The Bears’ non-conference schedule, which coach Jim Withrow refers to as a “tour of Afghanistan,” will conclude this week at Wildcat Stadium, and not a moment too soon. Sylvan Hills always comes out and shines in its conference campaigns, and that’s a good thing, because the first three weeks can sometimes be hard to watch.

BEEBE 27, VILONIA 24

Perhaps no one plays as exciting a non-conference schedule as the Badgers, who start out every year with Greenbrier, Lonoke and Vilonia — and they match up well against all three. Beebe lost to Lonoke for the first time in five years Friday, and also dropped its first game to Greenbrier in five years the week before.

If reversing trends is going to be the theme for the Badgers in 2009, that could be a good thing this week, because Vilonia has won four of the last five games the teams have played since the series picked back up in 2004.

LONOKE 45, CAC 44

Saying that there’s not a lot of love lost between these two programs is like saying Kanye West can sometimes be just a bit unkind. These folks can’t stand each other, and for us, that makes for a great game with lots of action. Last year’s contest featured about as much offense as you can pack into a 48-minute ballgame, and the teams appear to be pretty equally matched once again this year.

SEARCY 13, LITTLE ROCK FAIR 6

If the Lions can hold a team like Batesville to only 17 points and less than 300 yards like they did on the road last week, it could mean trouble for the War Eagles this Friday. The offense may be a little behind the eight-ball right now, but sophomore quarterback Dezmund Stegall continues to develop with every snap, and could potentially turn into an impact player under center.

Searcy has already begun to gain respect and grow confidence in its first two games under Tim Harper, so just think what putting a victory under their belts could do for the Lions.

HARDING ACADEMY 49, ARKANSAS BAPTIST 43

This is another game with potential to be wide-open throughout. The Wildcats and Eagles execute the spread as well as any of the smaller schools in the state. The defenses could have their hands full come Friday at First Security Stadium.

HARRISBURG 37, RIVERVIEW 32

Stuart Hill has said from the beginning that he wants his team to play against the elites of 3A football, and you can’t get much more elite than a very impressive Harrisburg team, which has outscored its opponents 96-8 in the first two weeks of the season.

But those victories were against a down Cross County program and a Hughes team that has not been to the playoffs in four years. We expect the Raiders to give them all they want in this one.