SPORTS >>Jacksonville escapes SHHS with crucial win over Bears
By JACOB SCHIMMEL
Special to the Leader
The Jacksonville Red Devils survived their trip to Sylvan Hills Friday night by es-caping with a 16-12 win. Jacksonville moved into a tie for second place in the 6A-East Conference race and the battle for the playoff spots heats up.
Jacksonville racked up over 200 yards of offense in the first half, but managed only 10 points thanks to a bend-but-don’t-break Bears def-ense. On Jacksonville’s opening drive, they marched 78 yards, but a great defensive play by Jeff Henderson and Shod Neely for Sylvan Hills kept Jacksonville out of the end zone. A Daniel Hubbard pass was tipped by Neely at the goal line, and Henderson caught it and returned it 22 yards.
The game was scoreless after the first quarter. Jacksonville put together a 73-yard drive early in the second quarter to take a 7-0 lead. Hubbard was 3 for 3 passing on the drive, and Lee Robinson had two big runs to set up a seven-yard Justin Akins’ touchdown run with 4:29 left in the first half.
Sylvan Hills was quick to answer. Backed up on their own 10-yard line and facing third down and 18 yards to go, Bears quaterback Hunter Miller scrambled to his left, avoided two tackles, and found Cedric Morgan for a huge 23-yard gain. Two big running plays set up a 30-yard touchdown pass from Miller to Jeff Hend-erson. Miller’s extra point was blocked, and Jacksonville led 7-6.
Sylvan Hills tried to be aggressive to score late in the half, but Miller was intercepted by Cameron Hood with 19 seconds remaining in the half. Hubbard connected with his favorite receiver Marcus King for a 17-yard gain to set up a 30-yard field goal from Manuel Alvidrez as the half ended to give Jacksonville a 10-6 lead.
Midway though the third quarter, Jacksonville struck again. This time, Sylvan Hills forced them into a fourth down from the Bear 35-yard line. The Red Devils went for it, and Hubbard connected with Blake Mattison for a great touchdown pass. The extra point was no good, and Jacksonville led 16-6 with 1:56 left in the third quarter.
Sylvan Hills partially blocked a Jacksonville punt early in the fourth quarter. That gave the Bears excellent field position from the Red Devil 26-yard line. Hunter Miller broke several tackles on a spectacular 21-yard TD run with 11:30 to play in the game.
Jacksonville’s Justin Sebourn deflected the pass on the two-point conversion attempt to preserve a 16-12 lead for the Red Devils.
On the first play of the next drive, Jeff Henderson had a juggling interception at mid-field and returned it 37 yards. Sylvan Hills was poised to take the lead, but another great defensive play from Jacksonville saved the day.
This time Marquise Simpkins deflected a would-be touchdown pass on fourth down to give the ball back to Jacksonville.
Sylvan Hills got the ball back with 2:35 left to play in the game. Several gusty plays by Hunter Miller kept the Bears alive, including an amazing nine-yard scramble on fourth down to barely pick up the first down.
However, the Bears could not find the end zone again, and turned the ball over on down with 27 seconds remaining,
Jacksonville head coach Mark Whatley was very proud of his team’s play, especially on defense.
“These kids continue to find a way to win,” Whatley said. “We still have not played our best football, but we are continuing to get better, and that’s what we have to do. I am awfully proud of them.
“The offense was more consistent, but we still have some things we have to get better at. Maybe I get too conservative and need to swing them more.”
Sylvan Hills coach Ron Sebastian said, “We are still inconsistent on offense. We had our chances, and could not make the play when we needed to. Our defense played good enough to win, but we could not make the play when we needed too. That’s been the story of our year this season. It seems like we shoot ourselves in the foot and don’t give ourselves a chance to win.”
Miller led the Bears with 96 yards rushing and 90 yards passing. Justin Akins had 96 yards rushing for Jacksonville, and Lee Robinson had 70 yards. Hubbard had 145 yards passing.
Sylvan Hills travels to Forrest City next week, while Jacksonville hosts Searcy.