Leader Blues

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

SPORTS >> Sloppy openers expose areas needing improvement for Falcons, Devils

By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor

The two Jacksonville high school football teams enter this Friday’s annual showdown after taking their own respective thumpings in last week’s season openers.
AAAAA-Central schools beat both Jacksonville teams. The Red Devils were routed 43-14 by North Little Rock, while North Pulaski was lit up 44-0 by Little Rock Hall.

North Little Rock is highly ranked while Hall entered the season with little expectations from anyone but the Warriors themselves. That leads most to believe that Jacksonville would be a heavy favorite over its crosstown rival, but head Red Devil Mark Whatley doesn’t see it that way.

“To be honest I can’t worry too much about how tough they’re going to be,” Whatley said. “We’ve got too many of our own problems we’ve got to get fixed. We put it on the ground four times, had five dropped passes and six misfires. We can’t be too concerned with anybody else right now but us.”

Jacksonville failed to get much of a running game going against North Little Rock’s defense. That’s another thing the Red Devils will work on this week.

The passing game worked well at times, and provided a few big plays in Friday’s loss, but Whatley wants to see more drives down the field.

“We just weren’t consistent enough,” Whatley said. “We had some big plays, but you don’t want to live and die by the big play. We want to put together some drives and be consistent on offense.”

There were a couple of things about the offense Whatley liked. The play of sophomore quarterback Cameron Hood was impressive, when all things are considered.

Hood was rushed into the starting job when junior returning starter Daniel Hubbard went hrough an emergency appendectomy Friday morning.
Hood suffered a major knee injury in the first game of the year last season in the Metro Conference, and hasn’t played a down since. He was told Friday afternoon he’d be under center against one of the most highly touted teams in the state to start the season.

“I think Cameron played about as good as can be expected,” Whatley said. “He woke up Friday morning expecting to play linebacker, then found out he was going to be running the team. I think he handled it really well.”
One thing that helped Hood out a lot was the protection offered by the offensive line, something Whatley was very pleased about.

“I think the offensive line gave him ample time to throw and that’s big. It’s big all the time, but especially when you’ve got a kid in the situation Daniel was in.”

Hood will start this week as well, but Hubbard will be back by week three against Watson Chapel.
North Pulaski took a beating, but even that score may not have told the story of how good the Falcons can be. North Pulaski threw four interceptions, lost three fumbles and gave up two punt returns for touchdowns.
That’s a lot of breakdowns to correct, but the basic offense and defense wasn’t that bad, turnovers notwithstanding.

“When you commit seven turnovers and give up two special teams touchdowns, you’re going to get spanked. I don’t care how good you are,” North Pulaski coach Tony Bohannon said.
North Pulaski’s starting running back, Rodric Rainey, carried seven times for 42 yards in the first half, but suffered a high ankle sprain that kept him out the entire second half. He’ll likely be ready to play by Friday, but will be limited.

The passing game is what Bohannon was most disappointed with. Execution will have to improve this week.
“We missed a lot of receivers over the middle that were wide open,” Bohannon said. “We just didn’t see ‘em, didn’t throw it to ‘em. We’re going to start throwing to our shorter receivers instead of going down field every time. If we don’t we’re going to have a new quarterback.”