Wednesday, September 12, 2007

SPORTS >>Red Devils must stop turnovers, start faster

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville got a big win last week after suffering a big loss in week one. Little about either game is likely to give much of a hint as to what may happen this week when the Red Devils host Lake Hamilton at Jan Crow Stadium. One clue could be found about the potential outcome, however, if the Red Devils don’t fix one major downfall.

Jacksonville has committed four turnovers in each of its first two games. It spelled disaster in week one. In week two, Jacksonville was the better team, and got the ball back on turnovers just as many times as it lost it.

If there are four turnovers against Lake Hamilton, Whatley isn’t expecting great things.

“When you turn it over that many times, bad things happen,” Whatley said. “Lake Hamilton has been a very opportunistic team. They’ve got a lot of turnovers and they turned them into points real quick. I think their scores show just how good that offense can be, and if you give them the ball and a short field, they’re going to make you pay.”

The Wolves have won their two games by a combined score of 93-18. They beat JA Fair 48-6 in the opener, then hammered class 7A Pine Bluff 43-12 last week at Pine Bluff.

Whatley can see the long strides the team has made since their meeting in week two of last season.

“They are a much-improved football team,” Whatley said. “They got pretty much everybody back. The quarterback is very much improved. They’re doing a lot more things than they did last year and they do them all pretty good. The balance it out pretty well too. They give you a lot of stuff to have to prepare for.”

Lake Hamilton coach Larry Clay is pleased with the improvement his team has shown as well, but believes Jacksonville will be better than his team’s previous two opponents.

“I think Jacksonville is the best team we’ve played to this point,” Clay said. “They have comparable speed to Pine Bluff, but overall I think they’re a little better. They’re pretty efficient at what they do. I’d say the quarterback this year is much more of a threat to run, and that gives them an extra element they didn’t have last year.”

Last year’s game saw the Wolves cough the ball up six times, helping the Red Devils to an easy win down in Pearcy.

Lake Hamilton has been the beneficiary of turnovers so far this season, and Clay has been pleased with how his team has handled the luck.

“We’ve been fortunate to have some things turn our way,” Clay said. “We’ve had short fields to work with, but we’ve done what we needed to do when we got those opportunities.”

The Wolves have four starters back on an offensive line that has created holes in the running game and provided ample time for an effective passing game.

“This line is seasoned,” Clay said. “We’re trying to do a little more power football this year. Last year the line was young wasn’t really ready to do that. This year they’re a year older, they’re stronger and they’re playing pretty well.”

Lake Hamilton hopes to be able to minimize some of Jacksonville’s speed, especially on kickoffs. The Wolves kicker, ??, is one of the state’s best.

“We have an outstanding kicker,” Clay said. “That helps against everybody, especially these really athletic teams. He kicks it into the end zone on kickoffs about 90 percent of the time. Of course, if they score as fast as they did last year it won’t matter how far we kick it.”

Jacksonville will try to guard against turnovers, but overall execution still needs to improve, according to the head Red Devil.

“By no means are we where we need to be,” Whatley said. “We didn’t execute real well. We played a better second half in both games, but we’ve got to get out of the box faster than we have. Two weeks ago we couldn’t overcome it. Last week we were able to, but we can’t get keep doing that.”