Leader Blues

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

SPORTS>>Devils try for second straight

Leader sportswriter

Friday night will be homecoming at Jan Crow Stadium for the Jacksonville Red Devils when they host Searcy. The Lions (1-5, 0-3) got their only win of the season against Jacksonville last year at their homecoming, and Red Devils coach Mark Whatley is hoping that history won’t repeat itself.

“I hope it opens our eyes to the fact that you have to be ready every Friday,” Whatley said. “Last year proved that. Hopefully we’ve learned from it.”

The Red Devils (3-3, 2-1) made it back to the .500 mark for the season and captured their second 6A-East Conference win with a 27-8 win over Little Rock Hall. The struggling Warriors kept things close until the third quarter when a big defensive stand that resulted in a big loss of yardage for Hall seemed to inject some motivation into Jacksonville. Corey Bester’s back-to-back stuffs of backup Hall quarterback Ricky Thomas moved the ball from just outside the red zone to midfield, and Hall never threatened again.

“When Corey got those two huge plays, it kind of flipped the field for us,” Whatley said. “We want big plays to inspire us, but what we don’t want to do is wait until the third quarter to see it. We want to be fired up by the time we get off the bus.”

Searcy coach Bart McFarland remembers last year’s win but also knows that Whatley and the Red Devils remember for completely different reasons.

“I know Jacksonville and coach Whatley will be after us. They haven’t forgot about it,” McFarland said. “The kids’ morale is still good, and we should have two or three of our starters back. We hope we can put it all together this week.”

A Week 3 win over Fair has been the only success for the Lions to this point. They have had a difficult start to their East schedule, including a pair of big shutout losses to Parkview and West Memphis the last two weeks.

Still, McFarland remains optimistic.

“One day at a time, one game at a time, one week at a time,” McFarland said. “That’s where we’re going from here. We don’t even think about that, we just want to get better every day.”

A second look at the win over Hall gave Whatley a little more optimism than his initial thoughts on the game. He said the team is not that outwardly emotional, but despite the lack of rah-rah type spirit, the desire to make plays is undoubtedly there.

“You try to address it,” Whatley said. “But looking back at the Hall game, we didn’t play all that bad. Maybe it’s just this team’s temperament, but there wasn’t a lot of urgency and passion. We were in control for the whole game I felt like, we just couldn’t separate from them.”

Sophomore quarterback Logan Perry put up decent numbers last week with 13 completions on 23 tries, good for 145 yards. He found senior Terrell Brown in the end zone for a late touchdown, but it was the running game of Patrick Geans, Keith Rodgers and Bester that seemed to wear down the Warrior defense.

“They ended up pressing our inside receivers, which made us rely on the running game a little more,” Whatley said. “We had 26 passes and 35 rushes, so it was pretty balanced for us. We were just tickled to put it in the end zone the times that we did.”

A 64-0 loss like the one Searcy took at the hands of the league-leading Blue Devils is always hard for any coach to take. For McFarland, not seeing maximum effort on every play was just as frustrating as the numbers on the scoreboard.

“It’s been tough on the kids,” McFarland said. “But we need to fight more, and play every play. We didn’t do that against West Memphis. We didn’t give our best on every down, and that’s what is disappointing.”

The pomp and circumstance of JHS homecoming is fine with Whatley, as long as his team is able to focus on the actual task at hand.

“My biggest concern is how everything prior to Friday affects us,” Whatley said. “We need to have our rest and keep our routine, and know that it’s time to play a football game. Hopefully, we’re mature enough to do that.”