SPORTS >> Lonoke advances to semis
Lonoke’s Brandon Smith scored Lonoke’s final touchdown in the Jackrabbits’ playoff victory over Malvern on Friday.
By CHAD MATCHETT
Special to The Leader
The Lonoke defense stepped up its game with two goal-line stands and the Jackrabbits stepped over the Malvern Leopards and into the Class 4A semifinals with a 21-20 victory Friday night.
Trailing 17-7 at halftime, Lonoke held Malvern to three points on two trips inside the Leopards 5-yard line early in the third quarter.
Those two stops proved to be instrumental in giving the Jackrabbits’ offense a chance to come from behind.
“Holding those guys to just one field goal there was huge,” Lonoke coach Doug Bost said. “That was absolutely the difference in the game.”
Lonoke’s defense didn’t play nearly as well in the first half as the Jackrabbits had issues both with the regular defensive unit and on kickoff return.
Malvern made it look easy on a 69-yard touchdown drive ending with Dontail Henson’s 4-yard scoring run that gave the Leopards a 14-0 lead with 6:43 remaining in the first half.
After the teams traded punts, Lonoke put together a 50-yard scoring drive just before halftime. Quarterback Michael Nelson pushed his way in from 2 yards out to cut Malvern’s lead to 14-7 after the extra point.
A long Malvern kickoff return coupled with an unsportsmanlike penalty on Lonoke gave the ball to the Leopards on the 7 with .4 seconds left in the first half. The Leopards elected to kick a field goal and went into halftime with a 17-7 lead.
“We just couldn’t tackle in the first half, that was really it,” Bost said. “We weren’t wrapping up. We didn’t change anything at halftime other than to stress wrapping up to our guys.”
The point evidently got across to the Jackrabbits.
Henson had another big kickoff return for Malvern to the Lonoke 11, but the Jackrabbits forced a turnover on downs. Henson got the call on fourth and 2 from the 3 and was stuffed after a minimal gain.
Lonoke couldn’t escape the shadow of its own end zone, gaining just 2 yards on three plays before being forced to punt. A short punt gave the ball back to Malvern on the 30 after a fair catch.
A 23-yard gain gave the Leopards first-and-goal from the 6. But after gaining 5 yards on three plays, Malvern chose this time to take the field goal on fourth down and grabbed a 20-7 lead.
The Jackrabbits immediately put themselves back in the game with a 72-yard scoring drive. Lonoke was facing its own fourth-and-goal situation, but came through when Nelson found Morgan Linton in the back of the end zone for a 4-yard-touchdown pass that cut it to 20-14.
Another solid kickoff return along with an unnecessary roughness penalty put the Leopards in position at their 24. Lonoke’s defense came to the rescue again when Darius Scott grabbed an interception that gave the Rabbits the ball on the 42 at the start of the fourth quarter.