Leader Blues

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

SPORTS >> ’Rabbits looking to leap into playoffs

Lonoke’s Brandon Smith scored three, fourth-quarter touchdowns on Friday.

Leader sportswriter

Every first-year coach looks for progress from his team. Lonoke coach Doug Bost doesn’t have to look very hard.

Bost’s Jackrabbits came one step closer to a 2-4A Conference playoff berth with a 39-27 victory over Stuttgart last Friday. It wasn’t easy, as Lonoke needed a three-touchdown effort by senior tailback Brandon Smith in the fourth quarter to get it done.

The victory gave the league title to unbeaten Bald Knob and placed Lonoke, Stuttgart and Heber Springs in a three-way tie for second place with each holding a 4-2 conference mark.

But the ’Rabbits earned the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Ricebirds with the victory on Friday, and Stuttgart’s 15-12 victory over Heber Springs in Week 4 now puts Lonoke in the position of having to beat Clinton by at least four points on the road this week to secure the No. 2 seed for the playoffs.

That would mean a home game at Abraham Field in the first round.

“We’re going to talk about taking care of this game and getting that first-round playoff game at home,” Bost said. “We’re out of school for meetings on Friday, so as a coach, that kind of gets you out of your routine.”

There was nothing routine about the way the Jackrabbits responded against the Ricebirds last week. Stuttgart held a 21-13 lead at the half, but Lonoke’s defense stepped up with a big stand just before halftime, and continued to pressure and deny for the final two quarters.

The offense, namely Smith, also did its part. Smith, after gaining only 9 yards rushing in the first half, came to Bost with a request to go to the air.

“He hung in there,” Bost said. “It seemed like it opened up for him after we had some success in the passing game. He came up to me and said the running game was not there, that they were keying in on him. So we ended up going to our passing game and had a big 50-yard touchdown pass to Darius Scott, and a 65-yarder to Brandon.”

Smith’s 65-yard catch and run, when Michael Nelson found him wide open over the middle, was Lonoke’s first play of the second half.

“I think that gave him some lanes after that, and in the fourth quarter, he was able to run for some big touchdowns,” Bost said of Smith.

Defensively, Bost had praise for junior lineman Antwan Wilkerson, who led the team in tackles with 10, including two for a loss and his biggest stop of the night, when he took down Stuttgart running back Reid Counce on fourth and 2 to force a turnover on downs, and Lonoke went on to score its final touchdown.

Bost also said Wes Plummer’s interception in the end zone late in the first half to end a Ricebird touchdown threat was a key to the victory.

The muddy conditions at Abraham Field on Friday did little to slow down the Jackrabbits, who went the entire game without a turnover. It was turnovers that killed Lonoke’s chances in earlier league losses to Bald Knob and Heber Springs.

“I think it shows a sign of improvement,” Bost said. “The field conditions were honestly terrible, so to not have any turnovers shows that they’ve come a long way, and that they’re learning a lot. As a coach, it makes you proud to see them getting better at taking care of the little things.

“Earlier in the year, in some big games, we turned the ball over and had poor execution and didn’t win. We’ve preached execution and taking care of the ball all along, and they began to respond. We definitely feel like we did win our biggest one to date for sure.”

But this week’s opponent, Clinton, is certainly no pushover. The Yellowjackets (3-3 conference) have some stake in the playoff outcome but would need the right combination of victories and losses by other 2-4A teams.

“They base out of a wing T, so we know they want to run it,” Bost said. “They will come out in the spread, but that’s not what they want to do — they want to run the football. We want to stop that and force them to pass. If we can do that, we feel like we’ll be playing to our strength.”,