SPORTS>>Mistake-plagued Devils fall
Leader sports editor
Watching Mills 3-pronged attack in action on Friday night, it was hard to believe they’d scored only six points in their first two games.
But their effective ground game and their big offensive line hardly caught Jacksonville head coach Mark Whatley by surprise.
He’d seen the film, and had watched 230-pound fullback Tim Stigall in action.
Stigall rushed for 102 of the Comets’ 329 yards on the ground on Friday and Mills stunned mistake-plagued Jacksonville 31-19.
“Penalties and mental mistakes,” said Whatley, whose Red Devils were trying to build on last week’s dramatic win at Vilonia but instead dropped to 1-2. “Not taking anything away from (Mills). They got after our rear ends and we didn’t answer the bell.”
The Red Devils turned it over four times and committed 11 penalties. They also let Mills out of a couple of deep holes when they appeared to have them stopped, and struggled all night to get a rhythm offensively.
It wasn’t just Stigall doing the damage for Mills. Scatback Zae Jones added 67 yards on 12 carries, while fleet quarterback Bentrell Cobbs kept the Devil ‘D’ off balance all night by keeping for 92 yards on just 11 carries. A fourth back, Chris Hampton, added 66 yards on just four carries.
For Jacksonville, Patrick Geans put on a show, but got only 13 carries on the night. He picked up 112 tough yards but the rest of the Devils ground game went for minus-2 as sophomore quarterback Logan Perry was sacked three times for 34 yards in losses.
Geans staked the Red Devils to a 6-0 lead late in the first period with a 1-yard plunge that capped a 7-play, 41-yard drive, but the first of many mistakes on the night came in the form of a bad snap on the extra point.
Mills, which fumbled and punted on its first two possessions, got things going on its third drive when it marched 77 yards on just five plays to take a 7-6 lead less than two minutes after Gean’s touchdown.
Midway through the second period, Mills padded the lead with an 8-play, 49-yard drive to go up 13-6. Fifteen seconds later, that lead was 19-6 when Perry’s dump pass in the right flat was picked off by defensive lineman Patrick Waddy and returned 45 yards for a touchdown that put the Rockets ahead 19-6.
Jacksonville found a rhythm offensively on its next possession but a fumbled snap resulted in an 11-yard loss and a drive that had moved from the Red Devil 5 to near midfield stalled. The Red Devils committed a personal foul and a hold to also help snuff out the promising drive.
In the first half alone, Jacksonville committed eight penalties totalling 70 yards, had two bad snaps, threw two interceptions and ran five plays that totaled minus-29 yards. Their total yards in the first half exceed their penalty yards by only 14.
“When your feet aren’t working and you’re having to reach, you’re going to have that,” Whatley said of the penalties. “It’s all about execution, about going out and doing what you’re supposed to do. Tonight we didn’t click.”
Mills began another drive late in the first half but ran out of time at the Jacksonville 15 when Rhakeem James broke through to sack Cobbs on the final play of the half. But the Rockets were firmly in control at intermission with a 19-6 lead.
The Red Devils came out with purpose in the second half, taking the opening kickoff and marching 80 yards in 10 plays, scoring on Perry’s lofted touchdown pass to Demetrius Harris in the right corner of the end zone with 8:01 left in the third period to cut the lead to 19-13.
But Mills answered right back with a 64-yard drive to push the lead to 25-13 with 3:39 left in the third. Jacksonville was on the move early in the final period after Perry connected with Devin Featherston for 24 yards and Lawrence Tillman ripped off a 21-yard run to the Mills 21. But Perry lofted a pass into the right flat that was picked off by Jones.
Though Mills returned the favor when Jeremy Berry recovered a Rocket fumble in Mills territory three plays later, Jacksonville failed to cash it in when again Jones intercepted a Perry pass with eight minutes left in the contest.
The Rockets put it away on Jones 22-yard scamper with 1:57 left.
Perry hit Harris from 12 yards with 10 seconds left to set the final margin.
“(Stigall) is a load,” Whatley said. “He was rocking and rolling and he was hard to bring down. And their quarterback had outstanding speed. Our first couple of series, we dug ourselves a hole and they did what a good football team will do. They fed off our mistakes.”
Perry was 15 of 21 for 144 yards. He threw two touchdown passes but was intercepted four times. Harris caught six passes for 43 yards. Featherston hauled in five passes for 76 yards.
“We’re going to re-evaluate ourselves,” Whatley said. “It was a non-conference game. The season is a journey. If we have the character I think we do, we’ll come back better.”
Jacksonville opens 6A-East conference play next Friday when it hosts Mountain Home.