Saturday, September 13, 2008

SPORTS>>Late drive stalls as junior Red Devils fall

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville varsity head coach Mark Whatley has eight more games on his schedule in 2008, but you might want to forgive him if he’s already taking a peak ahead to 2009 and beyond.

That’s because 9th grade running sensation Devon McClure is waiting in the wings and the show he put on Thursday night against Beebe provided a glimpse of the future. But McClure’s 156 yards on just 16 carries proved not enough as the Junior Red Devils lost their opener 16-13 at Jan Crow Stadium.

“He’s a good ball player and he had a good game,” said Jacksonville coach Max Hatfield. “They started really keying on him and he’s going to have to get used to that. But we missed some blocks along the way and that hurt us. We made too many mistakes to win the ballgame.”

Even more phenomenal than the yards themselves is the way McClure went about collecting them, on a variety of slashes and cutbacks and on simply outrunning the Badger defense.

His 64-yard run to paydirt early in the second period provided one such example. McClure went off tackle, did a little dance step at the line, then cut outside and went down the right sideline to put Jacksonville up 7-0.

But Beebe got a long run of its own on the fifth play of its ensuing possession. Austin Brown, who led the Badgers with 94 yards on 11 carries, went straight up the gut for a 34-yard touchdown. Quick hitters and dives were the bane of the Red Devil defense all night long as the Wing-T Badgers mostly controlled the line of scrimmage.

Quarterback Zach May’s conversion run put Beebe up 8-7 with three minutes left in the half.
It took less than two minutes for McClure to strike again. Cedric Young set the Red Devils up in Beebe territory with a 30-yard kickoff return to the 47. Three plays later, McClure appeared to be caught in the backfield, but somehow broke free, went left, cut back to the right sideline and went 45 yards for the score. The pass attempt conversion failed but the Red Devils held a 13-8 lead at intermission, despite having the ball only 10 plays in the first half and picking up two first downs, both on McClure’s touchdown runs.

The beginning of the second half set the tone for the mistake-prone rest of the way for Jacksonville when a mishandled snap on fourth down turned the ball over to Beebe at the Jacksonville 42. Six plays and 3:12 later, the Badgers had the lead for good on May’s 6-yard scamper around right end. Brown’s conversion run made it 16-13 with 2:09 left in the third.

The Red Devils almost made lemonade out of lemons when punter Demetre Jones couldn’t corral a high snap but was able to pick it up and deliver a pass to McClure. It came up just inches short and Beebe took over, again deep in Red Devil territory.

The Badgers were able to run nearly four minutes off the clock but the Red Devil defense made the play it had to when Cortez Brown stacked up Brown on a fourth down at the JV 26.

“We made the big stop when we had to and gave ourselves a chance to win,” Hatfield said. “We just didn’t quite capitalize on it.”

The Red Devils had 74 yards to go and only 3:52 to get there and they began an impressive, if mistake-filled drive, eventually reaching the Beebe 12 after a roughing the passer penalty.

But two bad snaps pushed the Devils all the way back to the 25 where they ran out of downs.

“We had a freeze play on on one of those,” Hatfield said. “We were trying to get a five-yard penalty on them and (the center) wasn’t even supposed to snap the ball. It’s a tough way to lose after getting the ball all the way down there.”

With his 33 yards in receptions, McClure actually accounted for 189 total yards, but the rest of the Red Devils went for minus-8. Defensively, Chris Griffen recovered a pair of fumbles, while Jones, Demario Williams and David Johnson turned in big games.