Leader Blues

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

SPORTS>>Devils back in thick of playoff race after winning two straight

Leader sportswriter

Serious playoff implications rest on this week’s game between Jacksonville and Little Rock Parkview. The two teams are currently in a 3-way tie for the No. 2 seed in the 6A-East Conference. The Red Devils and Patriots, along with Jonesboro, all have 3-1 league records heading into Week 8.

Kickoff at War Eagle Stadium in Little Rock (J.A. Fair) is set for 7 p.m.

The Patriots have flourished under the tutelage of second-year coach William Hardiman. Hardiman’s first year at the school resulted in a 2-8 record, but they have far exceeded preseason expectations in 2008 with a 6-1 record this year. Their only loss of the year was to Jonesboro in a 47-46 heartbreaker to open the conference season.

“We learned a lot from playing on the road,” Hardiman said. “We’ve taken every game as a learning experience. We also have a well-organized offseason program. Another thing is that the kids believe overall in what we’re doing. When you have kids that believe the way ours do, that’s something that we needed.”

Hardiman looks for the game to be won in the trenches, particularly when the Pats have the ball. He noted the impressiveness of the Jacksonville defensive line, and its ability to move quickly to the ball.

He is also aware of the ability of the Red Devils’ offense to move the ballboth on the ground and through the air.

“Jacksonville will present a lot of problems,” Hardiman said. “I think their running game will set up their passing game. Taking away the run will be the big challenge for us. If we can slow down the run, it will also help us manage their passing game.”

The Patriots’ mostly underclassmen offensive backfield, led by junior quarterback Benjamin Anderson, has generated an average of 28 points per game. Hardiman expressed a little disappointment in Anderson’s performance over the last two weeks.

“My expectations are always higher for my quarterback a little more than the other kids anyway,” Hardiman said. “But he’s been doing a great job.”

Running back Chris Giles and receiver Blake Vines are two potent weapons who the Red Devil defense will have to contend with.

Giles scored both touchdowns last week for Parkview during a 14-12 win over Little Rock Hall that came down to a last-second field goal that was blocked by the Patriots.

“They’re putting up big numbers,” said Jacksonville coach Mark Whatley. “Their quarterback and running back are hard to contain. They have big-play capabilities. We’ve got to find ways to contain them, especially when they have a shorter field.”

The Red Devil defense has been key over the past two weeks. It was Corey Bester that made the biggest stops two weeks ago at Hall, and Terrell Brown stepped up last Friday in a 40-16 win over Searcy. The Lions hung around into the third quarter until Brown returned a pair of interceptions for touchdowns, as well as scoring two TDs on the offensive side. Jacksonville’s defense produced three touchdowns off Lion turnovers.

“It’s that time of the year,” Whatley said. “If you’re going to be successful, that kind of thing has to happen. If you just have one big gun out there making plays, it’s not very comforting.”

The Red Devils amassed 473 yards of total offense last week. Sophomore quarterback Logan Perry had a big night through the air, completing 17 0f 26 pass attempts for 346 yards and two touchdowns. Senior receiver Demetris Harris caught six of those passes for 154 yards.

“Demetris used to be a part of our program before he went to Jacksonville,” Hardiman said. “He’s a good athlete, and I know he’s going to want to do well against his old school.”