Leader Blues

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

SPORTS >> Red Devils bolster ranks, meet Eagles

Leader sports editor

At first it looked as if Jacksonville was going to be even more short-handed against Vilonia than it was in its season opener against Cabot.

Instead, the Red Devils are going to be closer to full strength.

Jacksonville is looking for its first victory in its home opener at Jan Crow Stadium on Friday night after losing 35-6 at Cabot on Sept. 1.

The odd schedule, which was arranged for a statewide television broadcast, gave the Red Devils the past weekend free to fine tune, but the workouts nearly cost Jacksonville its quarterback, junior Logan Perry.

“A lot of it was trying to get healthy,” coach Mark Whatley said. “We had a big scare. Logan thought he’d broken his wrist on the first play of a scrimmage.”

But Perry should be able to go against Vilonia, Whatley said, and Jacksonville is also anticipating the return of receiver Devin Featherston, who sat out the opener with an ankle sprain.

“It’s going to allow us to stretch the field a little more,” Whatley said. “He’s got good speed, good hands. He just lets you stretch it. Plus he’s a returning starter. He’s been there and he’s made plays in the past and we look for him to make some more.”

Whatley said his players responded well after their one-sided loss at Cabot, which plays in the larger, 7A classification while Jacksonville competes in the 6A-East.

“We’re tying to get better; that’s what this time of year is all about,” Whatley said.

Whatley said the focus, other than staying healthy, has been on trying to eliminate mistakes like the early turnovers and penalties that put the Red Devils in a hole against the Panthers.

“We’ve got to get more consistent on the offensive side of the ball,” Whatley said. “Our focus and attention to detail is going to have to be better if we’re going to be competitive.”

With its double wing offense, Vilonia resembles Cabot in a few key ways, Whatley said.

“We’re playing a good football team,” Whatley said. “They do things very well. They’re a lot like Cabot in that they get a whole bunch of bodies at the point of attack.”

Whatley said Vilonia’s offense, like Cabot’s dead T, relies on a punishing ground game, misdirection and very little passing.

“Same kind of mentality as far as ball-control offense, they try to out-physical you; I guess that’s a word,” Whatley said. “I think they threw it twice last week.”

Whoever the Red Devils are facing, it is far too early to re-write the playbook, Whatley said.