Lonoke's jet sweep and fake jet sweep mixed with an occasional pass gave the Panthers fits on Friday night. Leading by only seven at halftime, the Jackrabbits executed their simplistic offense to perfection in the second half, lighting up the scoreboard with five touchdowns to pull away from Heber Springs 63-34 in the 2-4A Conference opener at Panther Stadium.
Tied at 21-21 late in the first half, Lonoke downed a punt at the Heber 1-yard line and forced a three and out, which led to a 44-yard scoring drive capped by quarterback Kody Smith, who powered over left tackle with 12.1 seconds left until halftime.
The 'Rabbits opened the second half with three quick scores to put the game out of reach. “We just can't seem to put to halves back to back,” said Heber Coach Steve Janski. “That is something we've got to figure out as coaches how to get the most out of this team for four quarters. It's like we can play pretty well for two but can't put it together for four.”
Heber received the opening kickoff and marched 70 yards in 11 plays for the game's first score.
Backed up on third and 11, quarterback Michael Kramer used a play-action fake to freeze the defense as receiver Dillion Moore broke free over right side for a 36-yard reception down to the Lonoke 35.
Running back Chandler Marquardt sped through a gaping hole for 21 yards and slot back Chandler Jones added a 7-yard carry, setting up a 1-yard touchdown run by Marquardt, who took a sweep around left end and dove across the goal-line on third and goal. Moore added the extra-point, giving Heber a 7-0 lead with 8:57 left in the first quarter.
Lonoke answered with a 13-play, 69-yard drive that included two fourth and short conversions. The 'Rabbits scored on a 1-yard run by quarterback Kody Smith.
Following an interception by linebacker Dylan Walker, Lonoke covered 50 yards in four plays to take the lead as receiver Blake Mack, who has committed to play college football at Arkansas State, completed the drive with a 4-yard run around right side.
Down 14-7, Heber responded with a 12-play, 68-yard scoring strike that got rolling when Marquardt turned a screen pass from Kramer into 24 yards, plus a horse collar penalty set the Panthers up with a first down at the Lonoke 13.
Three plays later Kramer kept over right side, spun out of a defender's grasp and into the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown and Moore kicked the PAT, tying the score at 14-all with 10:16 remaining in the second quarter.
The 'Rabbits fired right back, this time covering 63 yards in only three plays as Mack carried a jet sweep around left end, shed a tackler and raced to the end zone for a 42-yard touchdown.
Page 2 of 3 - Heber countered by marching 75 yards in 14 plays for a score while overcoming two holding penalties. Marquardt ignited the Panthers with runs of 13 and 11, then a second and long pass-interference call pushed the ball into 'Rabbit territory.
Backed up on third and 17, Kramer rolled left and passed to wideout Hunter Chandler for 10 yards. Then, on fourth and 7, Kramer hit tight end Conner Lindsey over the middle, where he was sandwiched by two defenders but managed to hang on to the ball for a crucial 10-yard gain.
Marquardt burst through a huge hole over right side for 29 yards, setting up first and goal from the 1-yard line. Lonoke's defense stiffened, pushing the Panthers back until Marquardt carried up the middle, where he was stripped, but lineman Nate Hills alertly recovered the fumble at the Lonoke 1.
On fourth and goal, Marquardt outran the defense to the right corner and dove over the pylon for a 1-yard touchdown and Moore added the PAT, tying the score at 21-21 with 4:53 to play in the first half.
Heber came up with its first stop of the game on Lonoke's ensuing possession, but the 'Rabbits downed their punt at the 1-yard line and took advantage of the field position when Smith scored from 1-yard out. Jose Garcia, who finished 7-of-8 on extra point attempts, kicked the PAT as Lonoke took a 28-21 lead to halftime.
Lonoke struck quickly on its first series of the second half, covering 61 yards in three plays. Smith capped the drive, faking a jet sweep and keeping up the middle for a 22-yard touchdown.
The 'Rabbits then forced a three and out and got right back to work, this time scoring on their second snap when running back Josh Coleman sped around right end unabated for a 28-yard touchdown with 9:31 left in the third quarter. Smith rolled left and hit Nicholas Watson for two more points on the conversion, boosting Lonoke's lead to 42-21.
Heber moved the chains twice behind the hard running of Marquardt on its next possession but stalled out near midfield. With Lonoke backed up on third and 7, offsetting penalties negated a 62-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Coleman.
But the 'Rabbits scored on the following play when Smith found Mack, who broke a tackle at the Heber 35-yard line and cruised into the end zone for a 63-yard touchdown. Garcia's extra-point gave Lonoke a commanding 49-21 lead with 6:13 to play in the third quarter.
The Panthers bounced back with an impressive drive, marching 75 yards in 15 plays, starting with two runs for a total of 23 yards by Jones. Marquardt carried for nine yards into Lonoke territory, where the 'Rabbits tightened up, forcing a fourth and 5.
On fourth down, Marquardt followed a strong push up the middle for seven yards and a new set of downs.
Page 3 of 3 - A roughing the passer penalty pushed the ball down to the 14 and the Panthers scored four plays later when Kramer faked a handoff and kept over right tackle for a 3-yard touchdown with 1:14 remaining in the third quarter. Moore's extra-point sliced Lonoke's lead to 49-28.
With Lonoke once again threatening, Heber came up with its second stop of the night when defensive back Dylan Bly picked off a pass near the end zone. But the 'Rabbits forced a three and out, essentially securing the victory.
Coleman dodged a tackle and cutback at the 5 to complete an 18-yard touchdown run on Lonoke's ensuing drive.
Heber continued to battle, driving 71 yards in 10 plays for a score capped by Kramer, who faked a handoff and kept on a bootleg around left end for a 21-yard touchdown with 3:51 remaining. Kramer's two-point pass fell incomplete, leaving Lonoke ahead, 56-34.
Using primarily reserves, Lonoke added one more score late in the game on 6-play, 60-yard drive.
The trio of Smith, Coleman and Mack proved hard to handle all night. Coleman, a sophomore, ran 18 times for 184 yards and 2 touchdowns. Smith added 17 carries for 118 yards and three touchdowns, while Mack rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries. Mack also had three receptions for 60 yards and another score.
Mack stretched the field, making the Panthers' defense respect the wide jet sweep while also having to watch out for Coleman and Smith between the tackles.
“Mack is pretty special,” said Janski. “He is definitely a next level guy and he is going to be a good football player in our conference this year.”
Heber (0-4, 0-1) visits defending 4A champion Stuttgart (2-2, 1-0) on Friday.
“These kids are resilient,” said Janski. “It's been a pleasure to coach these kids this year. They continue to do what we ask them to do. They are just coming up short. I think football is the best game that reveals character.
“Anybody can be feeling great and wanting to be around when you are 4-0 but we are going to find out who supports us and who is with us when we are 0-4. We are going to tighten that locker room up, get our true supporters in with us and everybody else can do whatever,” added Janski.
Marquardt, who has surpassed 100 yards on the ground in all four games for Heber, ran 33 times for 165 yards and two touchdowns.
Jones added 45 yards on nine carries and running back Edgar Torres ran seven times for 41 yards.
Kramer completed 14 of 32 pass attempts for 165 yards with two interceptions and ran four times for 28 yards and three touchdowns.
Ian Lowe paced Heber with eight tackles, Moore had seven and Marquardt finished with six.