Friday, November 9, 2018

Jackrabbits win first playoff game in 5 years, beat Prairie Grove 35-26

Lonoke senior defensive back Braidon Bryant intercepts a pass intended for Prairie Grove's Jacob Watson late in the fourth quarter of the Jackrabbits' first-round playoff win. Also pictured for Lonoke is Dalton Smith. (Photo by Mark Buffalo)

By Mark Buffalo
Staff Writer

LONOKE — When Taggart Moore took over as Lonoke head football coach five games into the 2016 season, he knew it would be a building process. He got the chance when he had the interim tag removed prior to the 2017 season. His efforts, along with his staff and players were rewarded Friday night.
For the first time since since 2013, Lonoke won a playoff game. The Jackrabbits rallied from a 20-14 halftime deficit to beat Prairie Grove 35-26 at James B. Abraham Stadium in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs. Coincidentally, the last playoff game the Jackrabbits won was also the last time they hosted a playoff game — 49-7 win over Pocahontas on Nov. 15, 2013. 
“We just feel like we have so many doubters,” Moore said after the win. “These kids poor their heart out for this football team. I just love it when we prove doubters wrong.”
Lonoke (6-5) gave away 13 points in the first half. Prairie Grove (5-6) blocked a punt and eventually scored a touchdown, and, on the last play of the first half, Lonoke attempted a trick play but a pass was ruled a fumble and Prairie Grove scored a touchdown to lead 20-14 at halftime. 
“It shouldn’t have been that close,” Moore said. “I made a stupid call on the throwback. We didn’t come here to lose. So, you’ve got to take some chances.”
Moore gave credit to his team for coming out in the second half ready to play.
“They are special," he said.  "I’m so proud of them. We’ve taken some bad breaks along the way. We were a couple of scores away from being 9-1 or 8-2 in the regular season. Nobody knows what to think of us. I’m proud of them, coaches included. Coach Nick Smith did a heck of a job calling the offense, and Coach Jack Keith, his defense bowed its neck there. We put them in bad spots, and they’ve been good all year.”
Lonoke senior quarterback Braidon Bryant had his best game of his career. He rushed for 212 yards on 28 carries. He also completed 4 of 7 passes for 54 yards. On defense, he intercepted a Prairie Grove pass to seal the victory with with 1:13 to play.
“He is a stud,” Moore said of Bryant. “Every college in the state should be recruiting him. I don’t know why they are not. Maybe they will be now.”
The Tigers took a 7-0 lead with 10:40 left in the first quarter on a 21-yard run by Garrett Heltemes. Cade Walker kicked the extra point.
Lonoke tied it at 7-7 on a 4-yard run by Bryant with 7:38 left in the first quarter. Nick Tate hacked the first of five extra points. 
The Jackrabbits took a 14-7 lead on a 3-yard run by Anthony Parks with 2:17 left in the first quarter.
Prairie Grove tied it at 14-14 on a 9-yard run by Ethan Guenther. The Tigers took a 20-14 lead when Heltemes scored on a fumble return on the final play of the first half.
Lonoke regained the lead on the first possession of the second half. The Jackrabbits drove 59 yards in nine plays with Bryant scoring on a 1-yard run with 8:28 left in the third quarter.
After trading possessions, Lonoke was forced to punt, but the Tigers muffed the ball on a fair catch with Spencer Pepper recovering the ball at the Prairie Grove 8. Two plays later, Bryant scored on a 3-yard run with 44 seconds left in the third quarter to make the score 28-20. 
After another Prairie Grove punt, the Jackrabbits went up 35-20 when Parks broke away from Tiger defenders for a 36-yard touchdown with 7:21 left in the game.
Heltemes scored on a 46-yard run with 6:15 left. Instead of kicking the extra point to make it a one-possession game at 8 points, the Tigers attempted the two-point conversion but the Jackrabbits defense stopped them, leaving Lonoke ahead by 9 points at 35-26. 
Prairie Grove had one final possession, which ended with Bryant’s interception. 
In addition to Bryant’s 212 rushing yards, Parks had 123 yards on 21 carries. Davonta Adams had 46 yards on 10 carries. 
Parks caught two passes for 10 yards. Dalton Smith caught one pass for 10 yards. Shawn Lake caught one pass for 34 yards and a key first down in the fourth quarter.
The Jackrabbits defense held Prairie Grove to 269 yards of total offense. Heltemes led Prairie Grove with 96 yards rushing on nine carries.
Lonoke turns its attention to Ozark for the second round of the Class 4A state playoffs. The Hillbillies had a bye Friday night after winning the 4A-4 conference with a 7-0 mark. They are 8-2 overall. 

Teammates celebrate with Anthony Parks after Parks scored a fourth-quarter touchdown against Prairie Grove (Photo by Mark Buffalo)