Leader Blues

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

SPORTS>>Red Devils control playoff destiny

Leader sportswriter

Barring clinching an outright conference championship, the best a team can hope for is to go into the final week controlling its own destiny.

The Jacksonville Red Devils are in that position this Friday when they travel to Marion. The Red Devils (4-5, 3-3 6A-East Conference) can finish as high as third with a win, or sixth with a loss. The Patriots (5-4, 2-4) currently sit in that sixth spot, but with Jacksonville and Mountain Home currently tied, they could potentially leap frog into the No. 4 seed with a win.

Parkview currently holds the third spot in the 6A-East standings with a 4-2 record, but will play unbeaten West Memphis this week. Mountain Home is tied with Jacksonville at 3-3 and figures to have little trouble at Searcy. The Red Devils beat Mountain Home to start league play and hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.

“It just shows you how important this game actually is,” said Red Devils coach Mark Whatley. “We need to seize that opportunity. The kids have done a great job all year long, we just need to go in there and finish it off.”

Last week was the toughest yet for the Red Devils, who hosted dominating and top-ranked West Memphis. The Blue Devils have given up only 27 points since the start of the conference season, and none to Jacksonville. The closest marginthey’ve faced was two weeks ago during a 48-14 win over Mountain Home.

While the Devils won’t be facing a team that features 21 starting seniors again this week, Whatley is concerned about the multiple look of the Patriot offense.

“It’s not just their running game,” Whatley said. “They’re also going to the spread a lot. They’ll line up double wing, and they’ll go diamond and then spread it out. The biggest thing for us will be making sure that we’re lined up right.

“A team that does so many different things makes you have to think a lot. We need to do a good job of tackling, and that’s one thing coach (Def. coordinator Rick) Russell harped to them about yesterday in practice was on tackling.”

The Patriots have also had their share of ups and downs in 2008. Last week’s heartbreaking 35-34 loss to Jonesboro was one of the downs, but they ended a three-game skid the week before with a win over Hall.

There were a lot of unknowns for the Red Devils coming into the 2008 season after a difficult year last fall. Some inconsistencies, the hallmark of a young team, have led to a few letdowns over the course of the season, but Whatley has liked what he’s seen for the most part.

“The biggest thing is, we’ve gone out and played hard every single week,” Whatley said. “We’ve gotten better as a football team, and the kids have responded well. Last week, we had a breakdown in our kicking game, which got it all started for them, but we’ve moved the ball really well at times.

“Looking back, it’s been kind of an up and down year, but this is our final game of the regular season. And it’s not some token game, it’s a very important one.”