Leader Blues

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

SPORTS>> Red Devils getting back to basics

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville travels to Little Rock this Friday night to take on a team that has lost four straight, and has been outscored 140-8 in the process. But there’s no reason to think the Red Devils will be looking past 1-4 Little Rock Hall after their own up-and-down start to the 2008 season. Kickoff at Scott Field is set for 7 p.m.

It’s been a strange early road for the Red Devils, who opened with a loss to 7A powerhouse Cabot but rebounded with an impressive road win at Vilonia. That was followed by a stunning loss to struggling Little Rock Mills. Jacksonville was impressive in the conference-openingwin over Mountain Home, but struggled on both sides of the ball in a 31-13 home loss to Jonesboro last Friday.

So, no, given the topsy-turvy nature of the young Red Devils’ young season, overconfidence should not be an issue.

“We saw (Hall) a couple of weeks ago and they have some kids that catch your eye,” said Jacksonville head coach Mark Whatley.

“Their tailback runs well and their athleticism is always a concern. They’re not going to try to trick you. They’re just going to line up and try to do what you do better than you.”

So far, the Warriors have rarely succeeded in that effort, other than in a season-opening 38-6 romp past Little Rock McClellan.

It’s been all downhill from that point on. Their only touchdown in that span came in a 47-6 loss to Cabot, and they have suffered a 6-0 loss to Mills, a 50-0 trouncing by West Memphis and last week’s 37-2 loss to Mountain Home.

It would seem, then, that if Jacksonville can take care of its side of things, it should be in pretty good shape on Friday night. It might provide the perfect opportunity for the Red Devils to re-focus their efforts on what Whatley identified as critical after last week’s loss: Getting back to basics.

“Plays that we had finally started making, we didn’t make them (against Jonesboro),” Whatley said. “That’s on both sides of the football. There were five or six plays that they made and we didn’t that made the difference in the game.

“We were flat coming out of halftime. In the past, we’ve had a spark.”

The Red Devils briefly led the Hurricane after a 15-play first-quarter drive put them up 7-3. But ball control from there on out would belong to Jonesboro, which held on to the ball for nearly 30 of the 48 minutes. Whatley blamed much of that on an ineffective offense, which included a slew of dropped passes and spotty pass protection for sophomore quarterback Logan Perry. Perry completed 19 of 33 passes for 193 yards, but had a pair of interceptions.

Wide receiver Demetris Harris turned in another sterling performance, catching six passes for the second straight game. Stan Appleby and Terrell Brown caught four each. But overall, the offense wasn’t very consistent.

“The spacing wasn’t very good on our routes and the way we matched up, it was hard to run inside the tackles,” Whatley said. “We could have been a heck of a lot better.”

Speedy tailback Patrick Geans got only eight carries in the contest, netting only 22 yards. Perry was under constant pressure the entire night, suffering three sacks for significant loss.

Whatley mostly blamed the offense for the defensive woes on Friday. The Red Devil defense, on the field for all but 18 minutes, surrendered 426 yards and 24 first downs against the multi-faceted Jonesboro attack. But Whatley saw some good things and gave much of the credit to Jonesboro’s execution.

“I thought our defense covered (the Hurricane receivers) up,” he said. “We’d be there and we’d have a couple of guys around their receiver, but their quarterback did a great job of sticking the ball in there. They were a tough team to defend. They stretch you pretty good and put pressure on the corner. And they had a running back that ran north and south, which is perfect for the Spread running game.”

The next two weeks are critical ones for Jacksonville, with Hall and Searcy figuring to be the easiest games left on the schedule.

After that, it’s resurgent Parkview, West Memphis and Marion — all tough games.