SPORTS >>Streaking Wolves present problems
Leader sports editor
The Jacksonville Red Devils have not played extremely well for four quarters yet this season, and this week they are traveling for the first time to take on a team that has so far exceeded expectations. Lake Hamilton starts just three seniors on offense and defense and many believed it would be a rebuilding year for the Wolves.
The Wolves have played like anything but underdogs so far. In week one they massacred JA Fair, then knocked off Class 7A Pine Bluff last Friday night. Their efforts have earned them as high as a No. 3 ranking in some publications. Lake Hamilton coach Jerry Clay is more pleased than anyone about his team’s success, but believes Jacksonville could present a level of speed his team hasn’t seen this year.
“As far as all over the field, I don’t know if anybody we’ve faced yet is like Jacksonville,” Clay said. “Pine Bluff though, they’ve got a lot of athletes, and our league has a lot of speed in it. So I think our kids know every year what they’re going to have to get ready for.” Contrastingly, Jacksonville hasn’t played a team yet that has done what Lake Hamilton will try to do. The Wolves spread the field, and run and pass well out of that formation. On the bright side, Jacksonville’s defense has practiced against the spread for two years.
Clay plans for his team to be able to throw the ball around a lot as it matures and learns his system. So far, they have thrown 13 passes against Fair and 18 against the Zebras. Clay has been pleased with the throwing and catching aspect of his passing game. He’s very comfortable with sophomore quarterback ??.
“He has done a good job so far,” Clay said. “He throws it well and handles pressure pretty well. He’s had to because we haven’t protected him real well.” Like Jacksonville, a small offensive line has caused some problems for the Wolves this season. The Red Devil will be the best matchup for Lake Hamilton in size that it’s enjoyed so far this year, but things still won’t be even.
“I think we could match up a little better up front this week, but they’ve still got a little size on us,” Clay said. “I’ve got two starters up front under 200 pounds, so we’re very small and very inexperienced up there. We’ve had some trouble protecting the quarterback, especially against Pine Bluff, but they’re working hard to get better. Pine Bluff just completely overmatched us at spots too. We’re not going to see many teams with the kind of size they had on the defensive line.”
Jacksonville too will enjoy not being at such a size disadvantage up front, but Whatley is still concerned about Lake Hamilton’s defense. “We’re going to have to recognize fronts,” Whatley said. “Assignments are going to be very important. They present a lot of problems with running people through on their stunts.”
The suspect pass blocking has forced the Wolves to run the ball too. They’ve run it about 65 percent of the time, and have been pretty successful with it. That means they’re not going to turn away from it. “We want to be able to run the ball too,” Clay said. “We’d like to be able to throw it a little more than we have so far, but we’re not going to shy away from something we can do pretty well.”
Jacksonville may run a little more than it has with addition of senior fullback Justin Sebourn into the lineup for the first time this year. “I don’t know how much he’s going to play right now,” Whatley said. “We’re a little concerned with his conditioning, but he’s the kind of kid that provides a lift. He makes plays on both sides of the ball.” Jacksonville improved on its throwing and catching from week one to week two, and have worked on some of the little things that Whatley believes has to get better.
“We’ve corrected some of the little bitty things like lengthening the routes that will make us better,” Whatley said.
The Devils and Wolves will kickoff in Pearcy at 7:00 Friday.