Leader Blues

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

SPORTS >> Lions get it done, looking for more

By TODD TRAUB
Leader sports editor

Some might not have expected it, but first-year Searcy coach Tim Harper and the Lions are right where Harper figured to be: the postseason.

After a multi-year drought, Searcy has returned to the playoffs as the No. 6 seed from the 6A-East Conference and will play at Watson Chapel in the first round of the state playoffs Friday night.

“I think our kids deserve to play an extra week,” Harper said. “We’re excited about that. I think that sets us up well for the future. I think we have 95 percent of our team coming back.”

Harper left Des Arc to take over a Searcy program that had won three games the previous four seasons. The Lions weren’t that far removed from the stretch in 2000-2004 when they won 30 games and earned a playoff victory in 2001, and Harper’s plan was to reinstate a sense of program.

Searcy scored some upsets this season, threw a scare into a few other teams, reduced its points allowed from 370 to 182 and has produced 40 letterman out of a 50-player roster who will return next year.

But the best part for the Lions is that this year is still going on.

“Our goal since January was to make it to Week 11 and we did that,” Harper said. “We didn’t do it in the fashion we wanted to. We had some setbacks. We lost Friday night and that was a game we felt we should have won.”

Mountain Home overtook Searcy 16-12 last week after the Lions had come back from a 10-0 halftime deficit to claim the lead on a pair of touchdown passes by Desmond Stegall.

A critical moment occurred when B.J. Slaughter returned a second-half Mountain Home punt to the 3, but had the play called back because of a block in the back by the Lions.

“What’s sad is we have a 12-10 lead and if we score from the 3 we probably win the ballgame,” Harper said. “That’s part of it. On film, according to us, we didn’t see the block in the back but that’s part of the game. We’ve got to get better than having to rely on the official not to make a call to beat us.”

Harper said the Lions’ second-half rally was indicative of his team’s slow starts this year, but he felt Searcy was in every game but the 40-3 loss to 6A power West Memphis.

And even then, Harper said the Lions had chances.

“We had it four times in the red zone on them,” Harper said.

Searcy was dominant in three of its four victories, beating Fair 44-0, Jacksonville 40-14 and Little Rock Hall 45-0. The Lions edged the Parkview Patriots 21-20 in Week 5.

Harper said he hoped the victories and near misses — Searcy hung with Jonesboro in a 21-14, Week 8 loss — don’t leave fans satisfied but rather, expecting more next season.

“Who wants to coach a football program where there’s no expectations?” Harper said. “If you’re coaching a team with no expectations, that means something isn’t going right. I won’t be happy with 4-6 I can assure you.

“We’ve got to create an atmosphere that expects success. That does mean the community too. I think they’ll get there.”

Before Searcy can think about next year, there is the little matter of this year and Friday’s opponent Watson Chapel.

“I don’t want to overlook this game because I guarantee you we’re going to give them everything we’ve got,” Harper said.

“We’re going down to Watson Chapel hoping to win the ballgame.”

Harper sees a team similar offensively to his own in the Wildcats. Watson Chapel, led by senior quarterback C.J. Branch, favors multiple looks and can jump from the wishbone to the spread.

“He may be the best quarterback we’ve seen all season,” Harper said of Branch, 6-3, 215 pounds.

“He’s really a special athlete. He runs the ball very well. They run a lot of power football when they’re in the wishbone and then they run the spread stuff and try to beat you with their speed.”