Leader Blues

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

SPORTS >> ’Rabbits ready for first round

Lonoke senior receiver Todd Hobson pulls down a reception against 2-4A champion Bald Knob.

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

Last week’s 48-13 victory over Clinton solidified the 2-4A No. 3 seed for the Lonoke Jackrabbits and sent them to the state playoffs for the third straight season, and also earned them a home playoff game against Clarksville on Friday at James B. Abraham Stadium.

The Jackrabbits (7-3 overall) finished with a 5-2 record in the 2-4A Conference after a rocky, 0-2 start.

“We’ve had a good five weeks,” Lonoke coach Doug Bost said. “We’ve done some good things. We’ve protected the ball on offense, and defensively, we’ve had guys stepping up and making big plays. We’ve had some fumbles and quite a few interceptions. So we’ve played about as well as we can play heading into this week.”

With the ’Rabbits’ playoff berth, Bost also becomes the first Lonoke football coach this decade to reach the postseason in his first year.

Friday’s triumph over Clinton came with a balanced effort on offense.

Senior tailback Brandon Smith turned in his usual solid performance with 16 carries for 158 yards and two touchdowns.

Classmate and quarterback Michael Nelson had a good night through the air, completing 20 of 27 pass attempts for 253 yards, and also carried 11 times for 51 yards and a touchdown.

Fullback Morgan Linton rushed for a pair of scores, and Todd Hobson led the receivers with 7 catches for 82 yards. Darius Scott had 4 receptions for 73 yards, and Blake Dill had 4 catches for 53 yards.

Lonoke finished with 518 total yards. The numbers on the ground and through the air ended up close, with 253 passing yards and 265 passing.

Defensively, Brandon O’Bannon led the way with 10 tackles while sophomore standout Tommy Scott finished with eight.

“We knew we needed to win to get that No. 3 seed and be at home,” Bost said. “We took care of business and got the win. I was real proud of our balance on offense. Anytime you’re able to run and throw within 12 yards of each other, that’s something to be proud of.”

The Panthers (6-4, 4-3 4-4) are the No. 4 seed out of the 4-4A Conference. They are also a spread-based team with good balance, starting with junior quarterback Trey Schucker, who averages 144.9 yards passing per game.

But Clarksville’s biggest threat on offense is junior running back Wesleigh Foster, who averages 115.3 yards rushing per game. Foster is also a conference 100-meter champion.

“If he gets out in open space, he will outrun you,” Bost said. “He’s by far the fastest one they have, but we’re comfortable as long as we can get 11 helmets after him. He’s definitely one that we will have to focus our efforts on.”

The Panthers also have senior leadership on defense with linebacker Thomas Plugge, who averages close to 17 tackles a game out of their linebacker-heavy set.

“They use a 3-5-3, which means at any time, they are sending two to three guys,” said Bost, who last saw such a formation against Central Arkansas Christian in a non-conference game in Week 3. “We haven’t really seen that since we played CAC.

That kind of defense can give you problems if you’re a spread team. It’s something we will have to work on this week.”

Clarksville also has momentum after winning three of its last four games. The Panthers suffered a 26-21 loss to Dover in Week 9, but finished out the regular season last week with a 23-17 victory over Dardanelle.

Their worst loss of the season came at the hands of eventual 4-4A champion Booneville, 56-7, in Week 4. They also lost to league No. 3 seed West Fork 19-7 in Week 6.

The last time Lonoke and Clarksville met was in the first round of the 4A state playoffs two years ago, when the host Jackrabbits moved on to the second round with a 48-20 victory.

Lonoke also won its home playoff game last year against Warren.

“Anytime you get to play at home, it’s a great thing to have,” Bost said. “We know the fans will come out and support our kids, so we’re just glad to have it at home.”