Leader Blues

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

SPORTS >> Red Devils hoping to erase mistakes against Bombers

By TODD TRAUB
Leader sports editor

It is probably a week for mental reps at Jacksonville.

The Red Devils travel to Mountain Home for their 6A-East Conference opener Friday night and are coming off a 24-14 loss to Mills that included four lost fumbles and two interceptions.

It may have been wet and muddy at Jan Crow Stadium last week, but Red Devils coach Mark Whatley said the problems were more above the shoulders than beneath the cleats.

“I still think a lot of things happen in a football game that are directly related to how you prepare or how you don’t prepare for the game,” Whatley said.

“I don’t think we did a good job of mentally preparing prior to playing. As a result, fumbles and things like that take place.

We’ve got to go back and correct that and be ready to play our best game every Friday,” Whatley added.

“It’s tough enough to overcome a good football team. We don’t need to overcome them and us.”

Hanging on to the ball has no doubt been stressed in practice this week, but Whatley saw another trend he wants to reverse against the Bombers.

“We’ve got to go back and address our tackling situations,” Whatley said of the misses that allowed Mills’ running back Stephen Clark to score on runs of 54 and 59 yards. “We didn’t tackle well. It looked like a 7-on-7 tournament at times. The game is still physical. We were there to make plays and we didn’t make plays.”

Not everything looked bad to Whatley last week. He said the Red Devils did a good job of defending Mills’ veer overall, especially in stopping the fullback, and were victimized primarily by the Comets’ handful of big plays and, of course, the turnovers on offense.

“Offensively we had right at 300 yards,” Whatley said. “From the 20 to the 20, at times, we looked like a football team.”

The Red Devils will need their improved tackling against Mountain Home’s option. While the state’s high school teams appear to have fallen in love with the high flying spread, Jacksonville’s first three opponents — Cabot, Vilonia and Mills — all have run-oriented offenses, and Mountain Home makes it four.

“Another option team. Trying to establish the fullback,” Whatley said of the Bombers. “They’ll formation you quite a bit, try to get mismatches in numbers. It’s funny how the option teams and spread teams, they’re really a lot alike. They try to get matchups and numbers.”

Jacksonville may have to play without sophomore linebacker Michael Thorabar, who injured his shoulder in the Mills game.

Whatley said Thorabar’s status was doubtful, but was crossing his fingers trainer Jason Cates could get him ready.

“Not looking too good right now but I’ve seen Cates work miracles before,” Whatley said. “We’ll see how he works this one out.”

Another challenge for the Red Devils this week is the miles. Jacksonville is taking one of its longest trips of the year in the widespread 6A-East.

“We’re going to find out do we travel well,” Whatley said. “We have in the past. But we’ve got a whole new bunch here; that’s going to be an issue. It’s a long trip. They haven’t lost a ballgame yet. They’ve won one and tied two and they handled Harrison pretty well.”

And, Whatley said, there is no more room for the kind of errors he saw Friday, not in conference play.

“There’s not any more time to go ‘Well we can fix that,’ ” he said. “We better be fixed right now, between now and Friday.”