Leader Blues

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

SPORTS >> Saints march over Jackrabbits

Lonoke’s Justin Smith (85) tries to get to Shiloh Christian’s Mitchell Roberts.

Leader sportswriter

It was a one-score game had the second quarter not counted.

Unfortunately for Lonoke, it did.

That’s when Shiloh Christian did the bulk of its damage to claim the 4A state championship with a 56-20 victory over the Jackrabbits on Saturday at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. The Saints (13-1) marched to 35 second-quarter points and capitalized on five interceptions on their way to a second-consecutive state crown, their sixth in school history.

“Some of our best guys are over there sitting on the sidelines right now,” Saints coach Josh Floyd said. “It wasn’t easy; I think everybody expected us to do this, but a lot of people don’t realize how many obstacles we had to overcome this year. Our guys made some big-time plays, and they also did something with it once they got the interceptions. We had a lot of yards after the catches.”

For the Jackrabbits, it was their first state runner-up finish to go along with a Class AA championship in 1994.

“They are a great group, and I love them,” Lonoke coach Doug Bost said. “We knew coming in that we couldn’t go three and out. We had some first downs, but turnovers got us. You can’t give the ball up to them.

“They play such good defense back there, I mean, that’s why they’ve won all that they have. They’re doing things right up there.”

Lonoke (11-4) held Shiloh Christian scoreless in the first quarter and threatened to take an early lead when it drove inside the Saints’ 20 on the opening possession of the game.

But Colt Thomas pulled down the first of five interceptions for Shiloh at his 13 and returned it to the 43.

A blocked punt in the first minute of the second quarter led to the first of the Saints’ five scores before halftime.

Sam Harvill got a hand on Michael Nelson’s punt after Nelson was forced to adjust to a low snap at his 5-yard line. The scramble for the ball pushed it into the end zone where Jake Scott finally retrieved it for Shiloh just before it rolled past the back boundary.

Jackrabbits senior tailback Brandon Smith led all rushers with 22 carries for 140 yards, including a 65-yard touchdown run down the right side with 13 seconds left in the third quarter for Lonoke’s final score.

Smith also scored the Jackrabbits other offensive touchdown on the same side of the field with 7:40 left in the second quarter when Nelson hit him on a screen pass at the Lonoke 44. Smith shed his defender and took it all the way to make it 21-7.

“He’s a great player,” Floyd said. “I felt like we contained him most of the night, but the thing is, if he gets out in the open field, he’s hard to bring down. So we tried to bottle him up in the backfield, even then he broke some tackles.”

Smith had 207 all-purpose yards.

“He ran hard for us,” Bost said. “He had some good yardage for us. He’s a competitor, and he came to play tonight. He did a great job for us.

“I’m going to miss all my seniors. I’ve known them since the seventh grade and coached them.”

The Saints tacked on two more touchdowns in the final four minutes of the first half. Quarterback Kiehl Frazier hit Chris Bryant for a 33-yard touchdown pass with 3:55 left, and Frazier called his own number from 6 yards out to cap an eight play, 41-yard drive with 10 seconds left.

Frazier was named the game’s most valuable player with 131 rushing yards and two touchdowns while completing 19 of 28 passes for 236 yards and two more scores.

Frazier’s biggest mistake of the night resulted in six points for Lonoke to start the third quarter.

Frazier fired right into the hands of Jackrabbit defender Jordan Lynch on the first play of the second half. Lynch returned the interception 56 yards for a touchdown with 11:45 left in the third quarter and Tommy Scott added the extra point to make it 35-14.

The Saints posted offensive numbers similar to their season averages with 29 first downs, 541 total yards and eight touchdowns, but a number of Jackrabbit defenders turned in strong performances along the way.

Scott, aside from his kicker duties, led the Jackrabbits in tackling with eight plus eight assists, while senior Brandon O’Bannon had six tackles and six assists. Wesley Plummer and Smith each had six stops while Jason Terrell had five.

Nelson was coming off a career night against Osceola the week before, but the Shiloh Christian defense made sure there was no repeat by saturating the backfield with defenders and sending two linebackers most of the night.

The pressure forced Nelson to act quickly, and the defenders were able to take Lonoke receivers out of the mix for easy interceptions. Nelson finished the game 5 of 19 for 136 yards and a touchdown, but the Saints’ ability to grab the five picks was one of the deciding factors.

“I felt terrible, no excuses,” Nelson said. “We gave them a game. A lot of mistakes. We knew if we turned it over we didn’t have a chance and that’s my fault. We turned it over and they just got all the breaks.”

Lonoke finished with 293 total yards and 13 first downs.

“We’re a team that never gives up,” said senior lineman Tyler Breashears, who was awarded the Brandon Burlsworth award for linemen after the game. “We went in the locker room and said this game ain’t over. We were in there talking about how much fun it was. We weren’t talking about the score or pointing fingers.

“We had a lot of mistakes – it just fell in their favor tonight – it usually does. We are the 4A public school state champs, and this is the greatest thing that’s happened in 15 years at Lonoke.”