SPORTS >> Surging Lonoke faces Warren
By TODD TRAUB
Leader sports editor
The Lonoke Jackrabbits certainly put up the points in their first-round, 4A playoff victory over Clarksville on Friday night.
But the buzz in the days that followed surrounded the defense.
And why not? Defensive back Todd Hobson alone set up two touchdowns with a pair of first-half interceptions in the 48-21 victory at James B. Abraham Field.
“Oh it’s great to win at home,” Hobson said. “Especially in a home playoff game with everyone watching us. It’s great.”
Hobson was just part of a defensive effort in which the Jackrabbits came up with four interceptions overall — Justin Smith and Gary Spears grabbed the other two — while Smith recovered a fumble and Ricky Manning sacked Clarksville quarterback Trey Shucker.
“Our advantage I think is our secondary,” coach Doug Bost said. “These guys have been playing our coverage, three, four years now. They understand it, they know what to look for and, yeah, they’re stepping up and taking some interceptions away.”
Without the offense cashing in, of course, the defensive plays would have been moot.
Standout running back Brandon Smith, who already has a scholarshipoffer from Henderson State, scored on runs of 5, 70 and 65 yards while catching a conversion pass, all in the first half.
One of Hobson’s first-half interceptions led to his 16-yard touchdown reception and he added a 7-yard scoring catch later in the first half, which ended with Lonoke, of the 4A-2 Conference, holding a 42-7 lead that enacted the sportsmanship-timing rule that runs the clock almost continually.
“We knew it was going to be tough getting picks but we knew we could do it,” Hobson said.
Brandon Smith finished with 172 yards on 10 carries and quarterback Michael Nelson had a 6-yard scoring run as well as his two touchdown passes and fullback Morgan Linton got into the act with a 3-yard touchdown run in the second half.
“The quarterback’s taking a lot better care of the ball,” Hobson said. “Not forcing things and taking what the defense gives him so it’s good for us.”
The victory leads Lonoke (8-3) to its second-round playoff at Warren, a team it beat handily, 47-7, at Lonoke last year. Warren beat Clinton 38-13 in the Lumberjacks’ first-round playoff game last week.
Warren (7-4), of the 4A-8 Conference, is averaging 26.3 points a game and giving up 19.8.
“It’s a totally different team,” Bost said. “When you bring back three starters on offense it’s a totally different team. We know we’ve got our work cut out for us. They’ve ruled 4A football for a whole decade now so it’s going to be tough.
“They’ve got speed, no secret. They’re going to chuck it and go run under it.”
Lonoke has won five straight games after an uncertain, 2-3 start that included a three-game losing streak.
“Those three games, we know we turned the ball over way too many times,” Bost said of the 14 turnovers the Jackrabbits committed during their skid. “We had key people hurt. We just kind of went back to basics; some things we did the first week of August that you really don’t work on late in the year but we just felt like we needed to.
“The kids have responded well. Offensive-wise, as long as you can protect the football I think good things can happen for you.”
The highlight of the Jackrabbits’ winning streak was a 39-27 victory over 2-4A rival Stuttgart on Oct. 30 that improved Lonoke’s chances at earning last week’s first-round home game.
“We knew if we could beat the Ricebirds we could get the third seed and have a home one and it probably would be our only one, you know that,” Bost said. “We got it, we got a big win, good crowd, good momentum heading into the next week.”
Brandon Smith, hoping to land a major college scholarship, is up to 1,368 yards and Nelson has 1,728 passing yards to help the Jackrabbits to their average 399.2 yards per game.
“I think we just got our heads up,” said Hobson, the leading receiver Friday with four receptions for 51 yards and his two touchdowns. “We didn’t let those three losses get us down and we’re playing a lot better.”
It is the first season as head coach for Bost, who has spent more than a decade in the Lonoke system and moved up from the junior high ranks.
“I’ve been here 14 years, I know the kids. I knew what they could do,” Bost said. “We first put this spread in when these guys were ninth-graders. It was new for me when I learned it. They learned it. They’ve really picked up on it.”
Though familiar with the program, it’s a different world as head coach, Bost said.
“There’s a lot more responsibility and a lot more overseeing a whole program like that,” Bost said. “But kids that work hard make it a whole lot easier.”