SPORTS >>Red Devils fall to Patriots
By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor
The Jacksonville Red Devils closed the regular season much the same way theyíve played most of it. The offense moved the ball well but failed to capitalize. The defense played tough and held as long as it could.
In the end, Marion escaped Jacksonville Friday night with a 20-18 victory, and with it a spot in the playoffs. The loss finalizes Jacksonvilleís season at 3-7 overall and without a win in four home games.
Trailing 20-10 and starting on their own 20 with four minutes left in the game, the Red Devils executed their offense more beautifully than they have all season. Jacksonville needed just seven plays and a minute and eight seconds to cover the distance. Quarterback Thomas Blade was five of six for 74 yards and ran the final six for the score with 2:52 left in the game.
Blade then found Demetrius Harris in the back of the end zone for the two-point conversion to make it a two-point game.
The Red Devils failed to cover an on-side kick, and Marion took over on its own 43. Two runs left third and six, but the Patriots converted the first down when quarterback Brandon Hampton kept on an option left for seven yards.
Jacksonville still had two timeouts left, and had one more opportunity to stop Marionís offense. After fullback Justin Blackwood got just one yard, Jacksonville used one of those timeouts. On second and nine, tailback Deoppolis Smith picked up eight yards and the Red Devils used their final timeout. On third down, fullback Bubba Cooper bulled his way forward for three yards and what was left was victory formation for two snaps to secure the Marion victory.
Jacksonville got on the board first on its second drive. The Red Devil defense stopped Marionís first two drives, once when Marion missed a 45-yard field goal attempt, and once when Jacksonville stuffed the run on a fourth-and-four conversion attempt.
After the fourth-down stop, Blade hit Harris for 17 yards to move the ball to the Jacksonville 38. On the next play, tailback Patrick Geans got loose for a 43-yard gain to the Marion 19. Two plays later Jacksonville faced third and 11, but converted when Blade hit Cameron Hood on a screen pass for 19 yards to the 1-yard line. On the next play, Hood went under center and kept for the score. The extra point put Jacksonville up 7-0 with 1:42 remaining in the first quarter.
Marion came right back with an 11-play, 74-yard drive to tie the game. The big play of the drive came on first and 21 after a holding penalty. Thatís when Hampton, who stepped in at quarterback when starter Jonathan Miliken went down on the first drive, broke loose for a 36-yard gain to the Red Devil 29.
Brayden Murray then sacked Hampton for a three yard loss. Marion got 11 of it back in the next two plays, but still faced fourth and two. On fourth down, Blackwood got seven yards to the Jacksonville 14. Hampton was sacked again for minus four yards, but two Smith runs got the first down at the 2, and Blackwood did the rest on first and goal. The extra point tied the game with 8:48 left in the half.
Jacksonville put together another good drive, going 64 yards in 12 plays. Facing fourth and goal at the 1-yard line, Jacksonville opted for a field goal, which was hit by Price Eubanks to put the Red Devils in front 10-7 with 3:29 left in the half.
Marion got a good return to the 43, and needed just four plays to score and take a lead into the break.
The big play came on third and five when Hampton found Cooper for a 45-yard pass and catch to the 7-yard line. Blackwood got the rest on the next play. Jacksonville jumped off sides and Marion decided to go for two from the 1, but failed to get in, leaving it 13-10 with 1:34 left.
Jacksonville picked up 17 yards on three running plays, but let the clock run out with two timeouts on the board.
The Jacksonville defense was strong in the second half, but had two big mistakes that proved costly. On Marionís second drive of the half, the Red Devils were called for pass interference on third and 11 to keep Marionís only scoring drive of the half alive. Marion faced another third and long just two plays later, but junior Azell Marshall broke three tackles and raced 29 yards for the score to put Marion up by 10 with 4:03 left in the third.
Jacksonville put together another long drive from its own 20 to the Marion 28, but it came up empty when Marquis Simpkins dropped a pass on third and 10, and Appleby was tackled after picking up just four yards on fourth and 15.
Jacksonville got it right back when junior Terrell Brown picked off a Hampton pass for the only turnover of the night.
Jacksonville got one first down to the Marion 37, but went backwards from there, completing two passes for negative yardage and throwing an incompletion.
Marion started picking up big yardage on its next drive, but the Red Devil defense put the clamps on and forced another long field goal attempt. This time it was from 33 yards out, and again it was no good. That gave Jacksonville the ball to start its final scoring drive.
Jacksonville finished with 323 total yards to 318 for Marion.
Smith led the Patriots in rushing with 56 yards on 17 carries. Geans led all rushers with 120 yards on 22 carries. Blade completed 16 of 30 pass attempts for 170 yards.