Leader Blues

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

SPORTS>> One to build on

Leader sportswriter

When going up against proven teams, the best thing a young team can do is stand toe to toe and try to earn some respect and self-confidence.

Jacksonville is one young team that has taken on that challenge, and has come out on the other side with a healthy dose of both.

Now with respect and momentum on their side, the Red Devils will travel to Mills Stadium this Friday to face the 5A-Southeast Comets (1-1), a team that the jury is still out on.

The Red Devils had the challenge of a dominant Cabot team to start the season. And while it went down as a loss, they fought until the end, scoring on a late running play by senior running back Patrick Geans to put three scores up against one of the stingiest defenses in the state. Geans went for 136 yards rushing in the contest.

They built on that performance with an upset over 5A contender Vilonia last Friday. Jacksonville stayed within a score most of the night, capitalizing on a late Eagle turnover with a 63-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Logan Perry to Stanley Appleby in a 27-21 victory.

“Well, you hope that you build on it,” Jacksonville head coach Mark Whatley said. “It took every dadgum thing that we had to pull it out. Our defense kept responding and kept responding. We gave them the short field twice there to start out the game, and we had two great defensive stands.”
Perry built on his varsity debut with a stout effort. The young sophomore’s solid play in the early season continues to impress Whatley.

“He’s doing a good job, without a doubt,” he said. “He had a good night, and Stan Appleby kept pulling the trigger, especially on that long touchdown pass he got to put us up there at the end.

“A lot of it is those senior leaders that he has around him. Those older kids help give him confidence with their leadership, and that goes a long way for a younger player like that.”

While Mills has yet to show much offensive muscle, scoring only six points over two games, Whatley thinks the playmakers are there. And taking on the option-heavy Comets offense could pose a challenge, even to the speedy Red Devil backfield.

“They’re an athletic team,” he said. “They’ve got some speed, and their fullback looks like a load to handle. It looked like they had several kids that could take it the distance. Our last two games were such physical games. It should be a different look this week. I think our secondary will get tested a little more this week.”

Even with the big win over Vilonia, the plan is to improve on weaknesses that were exposed against Vilonia. The illegal-participation penalties that crept up in Week 1 seemed to be taken care of, but another potential problem reared its head.

“We turned the ball over four times, and that’s never a good thing,” Whatley said. “We were lucky to do that and still win the ballgame. We need to do a better job of taking care of the ball, and we need to be a little more physical up front.”

For Mills coach Patrick Russell, one aspect of the Red Devils stands out above the rest.

“They’re a good-looking football team,” he said. “They have a lot of speed.”

The Comets started the season out severely short-handed, which led to a crushing 40-0 shutout at the hands of Parkview.

They rebounded with an outstanding defensive effort last week for a hard-fought 6-0 win over Little Rock Hall.

But the head Comet knows that his team will have to put more points on the scoreboard this Friday if it expects to improve to 2-1.

“Yeah, it’s a big concern,” Russell said. “The first game, we had five starters out, and we looked better this last week. We moved the ball pretty well. We already had a lack of depth, and when you suspend five starters, any team is going to suffer. It was a concern, but there’s nothing you can do. You’ve got to go play.”