Leader Blues

Saturday, November 15, 2008

SPORTS>> Red Devils survive, move on

By RAY BENTON
Special to The Leader

Sometimes nothing seems to go right but the ending. That’s the way things went for the Jacksonville Red Devils Friday night.

Hosting their first playoff game in years, Jacksonville rallied late and held on for dear life to earn a 13-12 victory over the Sheridan Yellowjackets at Jan Crow Stadium. It’s the first playoff victory for the school since 1991, but it didn’t come easily.

Two blocked extra points by Jacksonville turned out to be the difference in the game.

Jacksonville (7-4) moves on to play Lake Hamilton in Pearcy next Friday night.

The Red Devils had two 1-yard touchdown runs called back on flags. One was for holding, the second for illegally pushing the pile. Another apparent touchdown wasn’t granted when running back Patrick Geans was ruled down at the one-inch line just before halftime.

Trailing 12-6, Jacksonville took over on its own 36-yard line with 6:46 left in the game. The Red Devils moved the ball to the Sheridan 11 where it faced third and four. They lined up for the big third-down play, but whistles blew and the head referee called an officials’ timeout. After a long discussion over the ball, the referee came out of the huddle and signaled an illegal procedure penalty against Jacksonville.

On the next snap, sophomore quarterback Logan Perry lobbed the ball to the left corner of the end zone, where senior receiver Demetris Harris leaped and pulled it down for the score amidst three Yellowjacket defenders.

Place kicker Brandon Harris, who was starting for only the second week after an injury to Jacksonville’s starting kicker, got the extra point just inside the right upright for what turned out to be the game-winning point.

“He made five of six last week against Marion, but he made a big one tonight,” Jacksonville coach Mark Whatley said. “He’s going to remember that one.”

The first drive of the game saw the visitors push the Red Devil defense back for 69 yards in 11 plays, showing a good mix of the running and passing. The drive culminated in a 7-yard strike from Eric Eggburn to Brady Bone that gave Sheridan a 6-0 lead.

On the extra point, however, Jacksonville senior Patrick Geans got through the line to keep it a six-point game.

Sheridan got little offense going the rest of the half, but the defense held well until four minutes remained until the break. That’s when Jacksonville finally broke through with a 4-yard touchdown run by junior Keith Rodgers that capped a 33-yard Red Devil drive.

Jacksonville made its initial extra point attempts, but it was taken off the board and Sheridan was called for off-sides. The second attempt was mishandled by the holder, leaving the game tied at 6.

Jacksonville’s touchdown came one drive after an apparent Geans touchdown plunge was called back for holding.

Jacksonville got the ball back with 37 seconds left in the half at the Sheridan 37-yard line. A little razzle dazzle got it to the 1-yard line two plays later. A hook and lateral was executed perfectly from the 34. Perry hit Terrell Brown at the 20-yard line, and Brown lateraled to a streaking Geans. Geans got the corner and was dragged down inside the one. But the Red Devils ran out of time on the next play when Geans was ruled down as the half ended.

The Yellowjackets marched 71 yards in 20 plays on their first drive of the second half, chewing up 10:30 of the clock in the process. While the first drive of the game mixed the run and pass, the second-half scoring drive was a big dose fullback Vince Aguilar. Aguilar carried 15 times for 56 yards, but it was Eggburn that ran the final one for one yard and the score with 11:10 left in the game.

Only once again the extra point was blocked, leaving the Yellowjackets up 12-6. This time it was junior Joey Gates bursting up the middle to get a hand on the ball.

“Sometimes that football just bounces funny,” Sheridan coach Benji White said. “I thought we executed well offensively, we just made some mistakes that we couldn’t overcome.”

The Red Devils still couldn’t get the ball moving after the Sheridan score, but the defense regrouped and forced a three-and-out possession by the Yellowjackets.

“After getting pushed back like we did on the first drive, that stop right there was remarkable,” Whatley said of his defense. “It just goes to show that this group can refocus play after play. There’s not any getting down, getting on teammates or name-calling. This group just refocuses every play.”

Starting from their own 36, Jacksonville had to overcome two 5-yard penalties and two long third-down situations to keep the drive alive. The first was a 17-yard pass to Harris on third and 10. The second was the 16-yard touchdown strike to the 6-foot-6 senior on third and nine.

“Harris has been fantastic for us all year,” Whatley said. “He plays with heart and he comes through for us.”

Sheridan’s coach was also impressed with Harris.

“Jacksonville has some great athletes and they just threw it to their best one,” White said. “I thought we defended the play extremely well. The kid just made a great play to go up there and get it.”

Sheridan finished with 220 yards while Jacksonville tallied 310.

Aguilar led everyone with 109 yards on 27 carries, as well as three receptions for 13 yards.

Sheridan ends the season at 3-8.