Leader Blues

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

SPORTS>> Devils enter second season on high note

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

It’s been a long, strange season for the Jacksonville Red Devils, filled with everything from impressive wins to head-scratching losses.

But the regular season ended on a rousing note last Friday with a 48-22 pasting of Marion that moved Jacksonville all the way up to a No. 3 seed from the 6A-East.

That sets up a very winnable first-round battle with a 3-7 Sheridan team that comes limping into the postseason on a three-game losing streak. Two of those losses were shutouts and the Yellowjackets have managed just 14 points over that span.
For fourth-year head coach Mark Whatley, the important thing, beyond reaching the postseason after missing it last year, is getting to play at home again.

“The last time they walked off the field at Jan Crow Stadium, it was (a 47-0 loss to West Memphis), and the kids are very excited to get a chance to play in front of the home crowd again,” Whatley said. “Especially for the seniors. That’s important for them.”

Though West Memphis hasn’t played favorites in dismantling its foes this season, the trouncing of Jacksonville on senior night might have demoralized some teams. Apparently, the young Red Devils (5-5) were not one of them. They bounced back to play perhaps their most complete game of the season at Marion.

“We scored I think every time but twice,” Whatley said. “And we dropped one of those in the end zone. The defense made a couple of stands early and kept them out of the end zone. The linebackers played well.”

Offensively, the Red Devils got production from a lot of folks, but Patrick Geans stole the show with 225 yards rushing and three touchdowns, while quarterback Logan Perry threw for 205 yards and three scores. Demetris Harris and Devin Featherston each hauled in touchdown passes from Perry.

“That was our best game as far as distributing the ball,” Whatley said. “A lot of people made big plays. The offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage all night long.”

The win over Marion also ended a string of frustration for the Red Devils against the Patriots, snapping a four-game losing streak. Twice, season-ending losses to Marion have cost the Red Devils. In 2005, Jacksonville needed a victory to claim the 5A-East, but lost and had to travel to Springdale for the first round. The loss the following year to Marion sent Jacksonville on the road to Texarkana.

Though six of the league’s eight teams qualify for the playoffs, a 1-2 start to open the non-conference season — including a stunning loss at Little Rock Mills in Week 3 — had the Red Devils reeling. But each time they appeared on the brink of collapsing, they posted a key win the following week. Jacksonville bounced back from that Mills loss to paste a decent Mountain Home team to open league play.

That was followed by disappointing performances in a home loss to Jonesboro and sluggish wins over Hall and Searcy. The Red Devils played well for a half at Parkview but came up short on five of six drives inside Patriot territory in a loss. West Memphis followed, but the young Devils proved resilient last week against an always-dangerous Marion team.

In Sheridan, the Red Devils will be facing a team that has struggled offensively all season long. The Yellowjackets average less than 13 points a game, while surrendering 31.5. They got into the playoffs by sneaking past Benton, 15-7, in Week 7. But that was followed by a pair of shutout losses to Pine Bluff and Texarkana and a 34-14 loss to Watson Chapel.

But Whatley said Sheridan represents some danger on the offensive side.

“It’s hard to get to their quarterback,” he said. “He doesn’t give up many sacks and they throw it well and catch it well. On the film, the defensive back would be right there with (the receiver) and the quarterback would put it where it needed to be.”

Sheridan is led by former Cabot running back Vince Aguilar, who managed just 55 yards on 23 carries against Texarkana.
Whatley figures his Devils should have an advantage in speed, but is concerned about something even more basic.

“The first thing you have to do is out-execute them,” he said. “At this point you win or sack them up. They have a sense of urgency.”

Season tickets and passes are not honored at playoff games. The price of tickets will be $5.00 for adults and $4.00 for students.