Leader Blues

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

SPORTS >>Conference battle heats up early for Devils, Hurricane

By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor

Jacksonville is 1-0 in conference play, and this week the Red Devils host Jonesboro, which is 0-1. Last week, Jacksonville pulled out a win in its first conference game by scoring two touchdowns late. Jonesboro, conversely, lost its opening league game by giving up two late scores.

All of that worked out to be significant to the confernce standings in the 6A-East, but it’s all rather insignificant to Jacksonville head coach Mark Whatley when it comes to putting together the game for the Hurricane this week.

“They’re an explosive football team that I don’t think has clicked yet,” Whatley said. “I hope they don’t click this week.”
Jonesboro is 2-2, including a big win over rival Wynne in week one. That’s something any coach would make a serious note of.

“That’s something right there,” Whatley said. “It’s like in college, if you beat Alabama, it don’t matter what year it is, you’ve done something. They’ve played some good teams this year and they’ve slugged it out pretty good with them. They’ve won a couple and lost a couple, but they’ve been there. That’s a team you’d better take seriously.”

Jonesboro bowled over Nettleton in week two before falling to Osceola and opening conference by letting the Mustangs slip away with the win. They have good size up front, big backs, and they use them.

Jacksonville is small up front, and that’s the biggest concern heading into this Friday’s matchup at Jan Crow Stadium.
“They’re so dad gum big, they’re huge,” Whatley said. “We’re going to have to find a wa to combat that. The defense has been stepping up for us and they’re going to need to continue to do so.”

That doesn’t mean that Whatley thinks his offense can’t get things going. The passing game has sputtered in recent weeks, but the running game has picked up the slack. Don’t expect the Red Devils to change their strategy to an all-out ground game though. The passing game hasn’t been completely ineffective.

“Well the thing about is, you look back and we’ve thrown for 1,010 yards and 10 touchdowns, and we’re complaining,” Whatley said. “We’re complaining because we know it could be better. Daniel knows that, the receivers know that. We strive for perfection, and we haven’t been there yet. It’s just been little bitty things that’s kept us from getting there, or close to it.”
Whatley says he plans to do what will work.

“We go into every game hoping to be 50/50 (run/pass). Teams just won’t let you do it. Last week they were determined not let us behind ‘em. They dropped five back, so we ran the football. If teams crowd us, we think we can throw it. We’ll do what is given to us.”

In the meantime, the defense has been outstanding, and Whatley is thankful that the defense has played well enough to get some wins while the offense tries to improve.

“Yea, heck yea,” Whatley said. “It’s better than the alternative. Of course we’d like to play better on offense. We played sluggish and didn’t execute, but we had a defense that stepped up and put points on the board for us.”