Leader Blues

Saturday, November 25, 2006

SPORTS >>Football season in the books

IN SHORT: The 2006 high-school football notebook contains a few things noteworthy at the end of the season.

By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor

Football season has come and gone for most teams around the state. It hasnít been quite as wacky of a year as most recent ones have been. There were no games completely blown by officials, no coaches completely losing their heads, no players getting completely out of control, at least not in The Leader coverage area. That doesnít mean there werenít some notable events over the course of the year. Hereís a look back.

RUSSELL'S REWARD

Itís too bad thereís no equivalent of the Broyles Award, the esteemed honor named after Frank Broyles thatís given to the nationís top college assistant coach, in high school. If there were, Jacksonvilleís Rick Russell would certainly have been up for a few by now. Since thereís not, he should at least receive some recognition from the area newspaper.

Thereís no doubt that his defenses have been blessed with some talent in recent years, but not loads and loads of it, and he always had to share what he had with the offense, something not every coach at the 6A level has to do.

One thing his defenses have all had in common over the past few seasons has been grit, this one especially. His players believe him when he tells them something, and thatís because they believe in him, and thatís a sign of a good coach.

This year, his defense came up with so many big plays it was easy to lose count. The spread offense can, and indeed did at times this season, look like a thing of beauty. However, when itís not working properly, it can, and did, leave the defense in a bit of a mess.

Many plays, by design, donít even begin moving forward until already several yards behind the line of scrimmage. Incomplete passes also donít take much time off the clock, which increases the number of opportunities for the opponent to score. Those things can take its toll, and that toll can get pretty ugly against less than stellar defenses. Fortunately Jacksonville had a stellar defense this year.

Russell, if patted on the back for his efforts, would instantly throw the credit toward his players, and they certainly deserve the lionís share. But when itís the same year in and year out while players, head coaches and assistants are coming and going, you have to look at whatís constant. Whatís been constant with Jacksonvilleís defenses is Rick Russell.

BACK ON TRACK
Cabot had a great season. It sounds strange to say a 6-4 season at Cabot is great, but it is. The incredible run of talent that the Panthers enjoyed in the late 90s may be starting to come off the ebb and back into a flow.

This yearís team was not very talented, and thatís not meant as a slight. This team had guts, senior leadership and determination, which are things that were sorely lacking from the team of a year ago. There was the same unbelievable string of injuries that plagued the team last year, and even more sophomores had to play this year than last.

There was only a true fullback, something practically imperative for Cabotís dead T offense, for half the year, yet the team still managed to win five more games than last year and enjoy a winning season.

One bad game cost a playoff berth, but things are looking up. The team will be very light on seniors next year, but the talent in the current sophomore and freshmen classes could mean that Panther football is on its way back to championship-level competitiveness.

That is if those classes can be as tough and willing to work for it as this senior class was.


WELL OFFICIATED
Although there werenít any games in which bad officiating had much of an impact on the outcome of a game, there was one guffaw that should never happen.

During the Jacksonville Red Devilsí loss to Jonesboro in week five, the Red Devils lost 10 yards at the change of a quarter.The Red Devils got a first down at their own 29-yard line on the last play of the third quarter.

For some reason, the officials spotted the ball on the 19 at the opposite end to start the fourth. A lengthy delay ensued when the Jacksonville coaches animatedly pointed out the error.

The officials conferred with each other, but never checked with the scoreboard or clock operator. They somehow decided they were correct with the original spot.

Jacksonville lost that game because, for the only time all season, they didnít stay united. And if thatís the worst call of the season, the officiating improved dramatically compared to recent years.


EXCITING GAME
Lonoke versus Marianna didnít turn out the way we would have liked, but what an exciting high-school football game that was.


LOOKING UP
Keep plugging Falcons. You went .500 in junior varsity games. It may sound like a string of clichťs, but success is around the corner if you keep working, stay together and stay positive. You already have the ability.