SPORTS >>Devils, Pats battle for state
Leader sports editor
The Jacksonville Red Devils have a second season on the line when they host the Marion Patriots this Friday night at Jan Crow Stadium. In fact, both teams do. With the first three playoff spots from the 6A-East Conference already taken, and three teams already eliminated from playoff contention, Jacksonville and Marion stand, left to battle it out for the right to advance to the playoffs. The winner plays next Friday, the loser turns in gear on Monday. In that sense, this is week one of the playoffs for these two teams.
Jacksonville lost to West Memphis last week by a score of 36-8, but it wasn’t that bad. The Blue Devils led just 8-0 at halftime, and 22-8 at the end of the third quarter when depth and superior size finally wore the Red Devils down.
It was toughest battle any team in the conference had given West Memphis all season, and the most points scored by a conference team against the vaunted Blue Devil defense which has shut out five of its seven league opponents.
Jacksonville coach Mark Whatley believes the same kind of effort this week should spell good news for his squad.
“If we get the same effort and improve our execution, we can live to play another week,” Whatley said. “Our effort was there. I thought the defense played its guts out. This team had been mercy-ruling people by halftime and we held ‘em to eight points. They finally worse us down and once again, we missed some opportunities here and there that could have been game changers that just didn’t finish. If we can finish those, we’ll be alright.”
Jacksonville’s offensive line also did an outstanding job, holding the ferocious Blue Devil pass rush without a sack the entire game.
Still Whatley would like to see some things improve within the passing game.
“The line did a great job for us,” Whatley said. “We still had some pass sort of sail on us. We dropped a few, didn’t finish some routes. The execution just has to get better. I don’t question the effort. When we can get that kind of effort to go along with execution we ought to do pretty well. There wasn’t one thing to point to, we shared in the wealth and the famine.”
Marion has been inconsistent this season as well. They are coming off a big win over Jonesboro and should bring some momentum into Pulaski County. Running back ?? has stepped up of late and become a major weapon for the Mark Uhiren coached Patriots.
“He’s one of those cats that gets in the crease, then he’s got that other gear he’ll shoot right on by you,” Whatley said.
“They’re going to do a lot of blocking down, kicking out to get that back in the creases and let him roll. We’re going to have to contain him if we’re going to have a chance.”
While containing ?? is a big key, Whatley isn’t as concerned with the defense.
“They’ve played their guts out,” Whatley said. “To me they’ve played above their heads and given us opportunities to win ball games. They’re buying into technique and doing what coach (defensive coordinator Rick) Russell asks them to do, the front four especially are doing a tremendous job.”