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5 things to watch: Lake Hamilton at Jonesboro

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PEARCY -- Lake Hamilton makes its 13th straight trip to the postseason on Friday, traveling to Jonesboro for the first round of the Class 6A state football playoffs.

The Wolves (5-5, 2-5 6A-West) are coming off a pair of road losses, a 34-24 loss at Benton (8-2, 6-1) and last week's 40-0 shutout at Greenwood (9-1, 7-0). Jonesboro (6-4, 5-2 6A-East) is also looking to rebound after last week's 38-25 home loss to Marion (8-2, 5-2), who knocked Lake Hamilton out of the playoffs the last two years.

Here are five things to watch:

Looking back

Lake Hamilton struggled to get it's offense rolling last week, putting up just 230 yards without a single touchdown against a Greenwood team that threw for 234 yards with 109 rushing.

"Last week, we didn't play very well, as much as I wanted to," Lake Hamilton head coach Tommy Gilleran said. "A lot of that had to do with the way Greenwood was playing."

The team's Week 9 matchup at Benton was much closer with the Wolves trailing by eight at halftime before losing by 10.

"The week before against Benton, I thought we had a chance," Gilleran said. "We were in that game all the way to the end.

"I feel like if we play like we played against Benton, we have a chance to win. Hopefully, our kids are in that same focus, and that's what we've been talking about all week -- having that same focus as we did against Benton, just getting finished. Benton is a lot better team, if you look on the sheet about size and speed and everything. But when you line them up, they've got to play the game, and our kids played well that night."

Jonesboro's defense featured prominently in last week's loss to Marion, keeping the Patriots scoreless in the second period after trailing, 21-17, at the end of the first quarter.

"They want to win that playoff game," Gilleran said. "They know we've got to drive three hours, so a lot of the factors are on their side. I know that's what they're talking about. They want to win, and they want to move on.

"They feel like they've got a good team, and they do. I know they're young, and I can't imagine them the next couple years. Those kids, a year older, are going to be really, really good. When a sophomore throws for that much, I can only imagine what he's going to do as a senior. They've got a really good football team."

Jonesboro defense

Last week, the Hurricanes' defense tallied 92 tackles with three interceptions for an average of 27.7 yards per carry. The team is averaging 75.7 tackles per game, 2.1 sacks per game and an average of 7 tackles for a loss per matchup.

Seven different players have picked off passes for a total of 13 for 191 interception return yards, and the team has recovered 18 fumbles while forcing 11.

"Their defense is good," Gilleran said. "They've struggled a little bit at times, but overall, they're pretty good. They've got two defensive linemen that are probably the best we're going to see this year.

"They have a kid that has a motor that's constantly running ... He's a really good football player. They have a nose man that's a big, physical, strong kid, and the other kids fly around. It's going to be tough to move the ball on them, so hopefully, we've got a good game plan in to execute that we can take advantage of some of their size."

Hurricane offense

Jonesboro has plenty of size on its offensive line with junior Jakob Gatlin (6-3, 315), senior Darius Thomas (6-7, 331) and junior Drake Thompson (6-1, 315) among them.

"They're an athletic team, big," Gilleran said. "They have some big linemen. The big thing that we've seen on them is they're young.

"He said he's playing seven sophomores, and that's a lot. He's playing a lot of young kids, and that's why they're up and down a little bit. Some games they're really, really good, and sometimes they're not. When you play sophomores, that's going to happen."

Sophomore Cross Jumper runs the offense on the field. He has completed 114 of 225 passes for 1,926 yards and 21 touchdowns this season while rushing for 454 more yards and five scores on 87 carries

"He's a good football player," Gilleran said. "They've got a receiver (senior Tate Lutes) that has 1,000 yards, and he's a good football player, too. And they've got a young running back (Albert George), and he's a sophomore, too.

"That's part of the growing pains with them. When you've got somebody back there that's pulling the trigger that's a sophomore, he's going to make some mistakes, but also, he's played well enough to win some games, too."

Familiar opponent

This is not the first time the Wolves have faced off against Jonesboro, losing to the Hurricanes in the quarterfinals in both 2012 and 2013.

In 2012, Jonesboro rolled Lake Hamilton, 45-21, but the following year, the Hurricane took a 23-21 edge to advance to the semifinals where they fell, 23-21, to El Dorado. Regardless, Gilleran said that the team's focus is on Friday night.

"We're just focusing on this year and what we can do this year and what's going on," he said. "We haven't (looked back). We want to win a playoff game, and that's what we're focusing on. We're just focusing on them and this year and what's going on this year."

Wrapping up his second regular season as the team's head coach, Gilleran admitted that he is wanting to see the Wolves advance to the next round.

"I want to win it and move on and play another week," he said. "That's what we're telling the kids. Our kids are hungry, and I'm hungry. We're still trying to build a culture and a thing around here, just changing things a little bit. Coach (Jerry) Clay did things his way, and I'm doing it my way. Our kids are slowly buying into what we're doing, and as they do, we'll have chances to be better and better and better."

Injuries

Lake Hamilton has been fairly fortunate this season with most injuries impacting the team for a week or two, but senior tackle Eli Vaughn will be out again this week and is not expected to return if the team plays beyond Friday night.

"Eli Vaughn is out with a knee," Gilleran said. "Everybody else is back on. He was the main one. He got hurt in the Benton game, and he hasn't been back, and he won't. He'll probably be the main one we're missing."

Regardless of the loss of Vaughn, Gilleran has high expectations for his team.

"We feel like any time our kids get on the field and play hard, we have a chance," he said.

Week 11

Other matchups this week include 4-Lakeside (5-5, 4-3 5A-South) at 1-Blytheville (5-5, 5-2 5A-East), 5-Fountain Lake (6-4, 3-4 4A-7) at 1-Rivercrest (9-1, 6-1 4A-3), 3-Gosnell (6-4, 5-2 4A-3) at 3-Arkadelphia (5-5, 5-2 4A-7), 4-Centerpoint (6-4, 4-3 3A-5) at 2-Newport (8-2, 6-1 3A-3), 4-Bearden (3-6, 2-3 2A-8) at 3-Mount Ida (8-2, 5-2 2A-7), 4-Hackett (4-5, 3-3 2A-4) at 2-Mountain Pine (7-3, 6-1 2A-5) and 4-Magnet Cove (5-5, 4-3 2A-5) at 2-Des Arc (6-3, 5-1 2A-6).

Sports on 11/08/2018

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