SPORTS >> Hurricane storms past Red Devils
Special to The Leader
JONESBORO — Moments into Jonesboro’s 28-14 homecoming victory at Cooksey-Johns Field on Friday, Jacksonville served notice it wouldn’t be a willing sacrifice to the home school.
The visitors threatened to spoil the party, stunning the Hurricane’s seemingly impenetrable defense with 14 points in four minutes — twice as many points as the first-team defense had allowed in its first four games.
It took most of the game for Jonesboro to fight back from the initial blow, but the Hurricane ended an ugly and physical night with its perfect record intact.
With the aid of a hefty running attack and the reappearance of its staunch defense, the Hurricane pulled out a victory against the Red Devils.
It was a tough victory, but a victory Jonesboro coach Randy Coleman said allowed his team to show its mettle.
“The thing you like about it is they don’t let it spin out of control and get away from them,” Coleman said. “We were able to reel ourselves back in. That’s the sign of a lot of talent.”
There was little to like in the early stages of Friday’s contest for the home team.
Jacksonville (1-4, 0-2 6A-East) continued its hot run on offense against Jonesboro (5-0, 2-0). After racking up 28 points and 381 yards in the second half of a loss to Mountain Home, the Red Devils ripped the Jonesboro defense for 138 yards and 14 points in the game’s first 3:27.
Red Devils running back John Johnson uncorked two long touchdown runs on the same option lead play. The first went for 51 yards while the second was an 86-yard score.
In an instant, Jonesboro faced its first double-digit deficit of the season.
“It’s just lead option and what happens in lead option is [the offense] has a bit of a numbers advantage because you’re bringing an extra blocker in,” Coleman said. “They just blocked the man responsible for the pitch man, and that’s what happens because they’re athletic enough to get out and run in space.”
Jonesboro’s defense regrouped in a big way and held firm until the offense could collect itself. With little help from the passing game, the Hurricane offensive line began to win the battle at the line of scrimmage and gave Kowan Wright and C.J. Jones room to roam.
Wright capped an eight-play, 44-yard drive in the second quarter with a 5-yard touchdown run.
The key play was quarterback Moe Malugen’s only completion of the half. On fourth-and-4 from the Jacksonville 12, he found Marshall McDaniel for a 7-yard gain after a bootleg to the right. Wright scored on the next play to cut the deficit in half.
After the Hurricane defense held, Wright picked up a 33-yard run before Jones scored from 14 yards out. With 4:46 to play in the half, Jonesboro had tied the score.
The Hurricane took the lead for good at 8:15 in the third quarter on a 1-yard run from Jones, capping a six-play drive that started on the Jacksonville 21 after a long punt return. Then with the game still in the balance and the Red Devil offense showing signs of life, Malugen hit wideout Zac Brooks on a screen pass.
The sophomore turned the third-and-7 pass into a 52-yard touchdown that essentially iced the game.
“We want to get 7 yards,” Coleman said. “We’re not looking to score, we just want to get seven yards. Zac just has that ability and when he saw that little [crease] you’re thinking first down. Then he hits the sideline and he’s gone.”
Despite the loss, Jacksonville played well. The defense forced Jonesboro’s passing game into a 5-for-20 night and the Red Devils picked off two passes.
Jonesboro did gain 233 yards on the ground to go with its 59 through the air, but it took 42 carries to get there. The Red Devils forced six punts to go with their two turnovers.
The Jonesboro defense was just a little bit better. It had four sacks one week after collecting 10 against Little Rock Parkview.
The defenders also had 10 tackles for loss and recovered three fumbles.
Two promising second-half drives were ended when rushing defenders stripped quarterback Logan Perry.
“We played a good football team tonight,” Jacksonville coach Mark Whatley said. “That defense over there, they’re good. We hung in there with them, and our defense played well and gave us some opportunities. We had some open receivers and just missed some chances.
“You’ve just got to get a little more consistent and keep working because it’s a long season.
Jonesboro puts phenomenal pressure on you and we actually handled it better than I anticipated. We held up pretty good.”
Jacksonville finished with 120 yards rushing, but had minus-21 after Johnson’s first four carries netted 141 yards. Johnson finished with 132 yards on 16 carries.
Perry did a solid job of eluding pressure all night and finished 14 for 28 with 127 yards passing, but Jacksonville had nine punts and three turnovers in its final 12 possessions.