Leader Blues

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

SPORTS >> Lonoke, Stuttgart plan to sling mud

Leader sportswriter

The conditions should be prime for a classic battle at James B. Abraham Field in Lonoke this Friday.

That means the conditions should be muddy.

The series between Lonoke and Stuttgart always provides for a hard-fought battle, but throw a wet, mucky field into the mix, and the fight for a potential No. 3 seed out of the 2-4A Conference could be even more ugly.

“When we started the season, we said our strength would be in our running game,” Lonoke coach Doug Bost said. “The conditions definitely make it tougher to pass, so you need to have a couple of running backs that can pound on people.”

The Jackrabbits were able to have a balanced night offensively despite the bad field conditions last week in a 29-0 victory over Marianna-Lee.

Senior quarterback Michael Nelson had 195 yards passing, and rushed for 57 more yards. Senior running back Brandon Smith picked up the bulk of the ’Rabbits yards on the ground with 19 carries for 131 yards.

But the Ricebirds have the ability to counter Lonoke’s firepower with senior all-conference quarterback Zach Boleware, who led Stuttgart in a 28-point fourth quarter to lift his team to a 47-16 victory over DeWitt last week.

“He’s definitely the leader of that team,” Bost said. “He runs that mid-line option, and he can ride his back and then pull the ball out at the very last second and pull around. We have to make sure we have someone assigned to him and assigned to the back.”

Wet, sloppy field conditions are not really new to central Arkansas teams. October has seen its share of adverse weather, which has boded well for Lonoke.

Friday’s victory over Marianna-Lee was the Jackrabbits’ third straight, and all of them came on a muddy field.

Bost does not believe it is the weather that has helped as muchas simply holding on to the football.

“We’ve done some good things here lately,” Bost said. “One thing we’ve done is cut out all of those turnovers. That was something that really plagued us, and we’ve done a better job of taking care of the ball.”

Rivalries can sometimes be broken down with a review of common opponents, but that does not appear to be the case with the Jackrabbits and Ricebirds.

Their records against five common opponents — Pulaski Robinson, Heber Springs, Bald Knob, Batesville Southside and DeWitt — are both 3-2. Lonoke has outscored those combined opponents 140-62, while Stuttgart has outscored them 139-92.

Those numbers become even more confusing when examining Lonoke’s 21-7 loss to Heber Springs while Stuttgart beat Heber 15-12. Robinson beat Stuttgart 37-28 in Week 2, while the Jackrabbits beat Robinson 27-0 to open the season.

“That’s what we told the kids, that there’s no way to compare our records against like opponents,” Bost said. “We both put up pretty similar numbers against Southside and DeWitt, so it appears to be two pretty evenly matched teams on paper.”

The Ricebirds will go into Friday’s matchup trying to hold on to second place in the 2-4A Conference. Bald Knob sits in the driver’s seat at 5-0, while the Ricebirds are a game back at 4-1.

From there, Clinton, Heber Springs and Lonoke sit in a three-way tie for third with only two playoffs spots available.

“It’s a key week in a lot of conferences,” Bost said. “It will probably start to clear itself up quite a bit after this week. It’s always a battle when we play those Ricebirds, and we’ll probably see that again on Friday with those second and third playoff seeds on the line.”