Tuesday, September 23, 2008

SPORTS>>Red Devils try to shake off upset

Leader sports editor

Oh, the frustrations of coaching a young team.

Just ask Mark Whatley.

With plenty of firepower on offense, speed on defense, and momentum from a dramatic comeback win at Vilonia to call on, the Jacksonville Red Devils seemed poised for a blowout of Mills last Friday.

Instead, Jacksonville will begin 6A-East Conference play this Friday at Jan Crow Stadium trying to shake off a disappointing, mistake-plagued 31-19 stunner at the hands of the Comets.

“We didn’t need to let them hangaround,” said Whatley, the Red Devils’ fourth-year head coach. “But we had mistakes that definitely hurt us, no question about it. We just didn’t get out of the box.

“Youth kind of reared its head a little bit.”

Mountain Home will be trying to shake off a 2-game slide after falling 37-14 to Harrison in Week 2 and 29-16 to Batesville last Friday.

“We’re a little disappointed because in all my years here, our teams have always played hard,” said Bomber head coach Shane Patrick. “But we haven’t done that all the time this year. Unless that changes, we won’t win another game.”

The Red Devil defense will be looking at a similar style in the Mountain Home Wishbone that they saw last Friday. Their attack is centered around fullback Chase Walker, who ran for 117 yards last week and has had three big games for the Bombers.

But they also have a quick option in quarterback Zach Hawthorne.

“We’ve been pretty effective running the football so far,” Patrick said.

The Comets bulled through and around the Red Devils for more than 300 yards last week, and that’s an obvious concern for Whatley heading into Friday night.

“Mountain Home will make you play assignment football,” he said. “They’ve got a good offensive line. Last Friday, we gave up the big plays we hadn’t been giving up all year. A lot of that had to do with their speed. Their quarterback was tough to deal with. We’ve got to be able to make that tackle at the line of scrimmage this week.”

Assuming the Red Devils are able to shore up that defense this Friday, the key will be to limit mistakes offensively and turn loose their various weapons on a Mountain Home defense that has surrendered 66 points the past two weeks.

Tailback Patrick Geans showed flashes of his slithery elusiveness in snaking his way to 112 yards against the Comets, but he got only 13 carries. Keith Rodgers provided a nice complement to Geans with more straight-ahead running, and Lawrence Tillman ripped off a couple of long runs.

“Keith gave us everything he had,” Whatley said. “The two backs are blocking well for each other, but we didn’t get the blocking on the perimeter from our receivers that we need. Geans doesn’t need much. He’s real elusive and can do a lot of things with it.”

Sophomore quarterback Logan Perry threw four interceptions, but also delivered a lot of passes right on the money, mostly to Demetrius Harris and Devin Featherston. Of Perry’s 15 completions in 21 attempts, six were hauled in by Harris — two for touchdowns — and five more were caught by Featherston.

“Demetrius has had three really good games for us,” Whatley said. “That’s six touchdowns he’s caught now. And Devin has come along and given us production on the other side. A lot of that has to do with them trying to stop Demetrius. Now we just need to eliminate mistakes.”

Whatley said his team appears to have shaken off the effects of the disappointing loss to Mills.

“The biggest thing is we’re undefeated in conference,” he said. “Hopefully we learned a lesson from (the loss). Every game from here on out is a bowl game. They all count from here.”