SPORTS >>Devils, Mustangs refocus
Leader sports editor
The Jacksonville Red Devils now find themselves with an uphill battle to get into the playoffs with only three games remaining in the regular season. An upset loss last Friday to previously winless Searcy leaves Jacksonville needing to win at least two of its last three games, and the easy part of the schedule is over.
Jacksonville’s uphill battle begins this Friday when Forrest City enters Jan Crow Stadium as homecoming guests.
Forrest City also suffered its worst outing of the season last week when it was handled rather easily by the Sylvan Hills Bears.
The Mustangs entered that game unbeaten in conference play and riding a wave of three straight easy wins in league play. They believe they simply suffered an off week, came out flat and were beaten by a more focused team.
“I did not have a good feeling about that game all last week,” Forrest City coach Rick Trail said. “We didn’t have a a good week of practice. That’s my fault as a coach for not having our guys mentally and physically ready to play. We have three conference games left and we are still in good shape. We just need to refocus and get back on track.”
Jacksonville’s loss to Searcy came on the heels of its own drubbing at the hands of the Bears, so the Red Devils are trying to find a way to regain some of the momentum they had going with their two blowout wins over Mountain Home and Jonesboro.
One good way of getting and maintaining momentum, according to Jacksonville head coach Mark Whatley, would be to cut out penalties at crucial moments.
Jacksonville nearly tripled Searcy’s yardage total last week, but were continuously penalized after reaching the red zone.
And while the defense was outstanding overall, it was a personal foul penalty against the Red Devils that helped lead to Searcy’s only touchdown.
“We’re not talented enough to overcome those kinds of things,” Whatley said. “So what you have to do is not do those things. We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot. I think if you take away the penalties, the miscued snaps and other mistakes, we win it.”
Playing mistake-free football will be of even more importance this week. Forrest City is better than Searcy, as evidenced by its 41-0 defeat of the Lions earlier this season.
One of the most urgent tasks facing Jacksonville this week is finding a way to stop the Mustangs’ stable of running backs. They have about five that can go, and three that are capable of scoring on any play.
“They look like an SEC track team in football pads,” Whatley said Monday. “They’ve got a stable of backs that can run the ball extremely well. They run well on defense, pressure you up front. They’re pretty big up the middle. We’re not sure how we’re going to attack them yet.”
Small things continue to hurt Jacksonville’s performances. Perimeter blocking suffered last week, as did carrying plays out by players that weren’t directly involved with on-the-ball action.
Those things had gotten better at mid-season, but have waned recently. It’s a habit that the Red Devils can’t afford to continue, but one Whatley believes his players can correct. They’ve done it before.
“We haven’t played well the last couple of weeks, but we do control our own destiny,” Whatley said. “I think the kids understand that. Last week should be a good eye opener for us. We’ve got to hustle at all 11 positions. Until we do that, we’ll be mediocre. When we understand that all 11 our there have a role to play on every snap, when we decide to do that, we’ll be a pretty good football team.”