Wednesday, October 25, 2006

SPORTS >>Red Devils vying for top spot in 6A East

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville is in a good situation, but not an easy one. The Red Devils meet up with the West Memphis Blue Devils this week at Jan Crow Stadium as the only two teams in the 6A-East Conference that hold their own destinies in their hands. Each team is in the same situation, win out and win the outright conference championship, or lose, and look for help from elsewhere.

Jacksonville closes on the road against Marion while West Memphis hosts Forrest City in week 10. None of that matters much to either team. They both know that the team in front of them now is the one that stands in the way of a league title. Jacksonville’s coaching staff is well aware of what West Memphis brings to the table. It’s something its team didn’t stop much a year ago, but no one in Jacksonville is focusing on last year’s 50-14 Loss at West Memphis.

“That was a year ago, two completely different teams, different set of circumstances,” Jacksonville coach Mark Whatley said.
While it’s apparent to all that Jacksonville’s offense is better this year, the second under the guidance of Whatley, it’s still not where he wants it to be.

“We still haven’t played as well as I think we can,” Whatley said. “We’re still dropping balls, still getting penalties that hurt drives. We’ve got to get to a new mindset. If you run on first down and get stuffed, that seems ok. It seems like if we drop back to pass on first down and it’s incomplete, it’s the end of the world. We’ve just got to have a short memory. When you throw it as much as we do, you’re going to drop some and you’re going to miss some. We just have to get back and run another play like we’re capable of.”

For all the mistakes Whatley says is hurting productivity, his team is still finding ways to win games. Whatley believes that’s a testament to the team’s effort. “They’ve played hard all season,” Whatley said. “Hadn’t always played smart, but they’ve played hard all year. We lost our composure out there against Jonesboro, and I think the team learned from that and grew because of it.”

One of the concerns for Jacksonville will be West Memphis’ mindset coming into the game. The Blue Devils just lost to Mountain Home last week. It was the first conference loss for the team since week four of 2004 and it snapped a 17-game conference winning streak.

Jacksonville could be hosting an angry bunch of Blue Devils this week. “We’re catching teams when they’re healthy, we’re catching teams when they’re mad. We seem to be catching everybody at just the wrong time. So far we’ve still found ways to win games.”

West Memphis is also one of the only teams in the classification with comparable talent to Jacksonville in the skill positions. The offense is led by running back Teddy Stackhouse. Whatley has other people to be concerned with as well. “That No. 5 (Denarius Jones) is a crackerjack too. They’re talented as can be. But I wouldn’t for one second think about trading ‘em for this bunch.”