Tuesday, October 26, 2010

SPORTS>>Devils keeping goals in place

By Todd Traub
Leader sports editor

A rough week for Jacksonville coach Rick Russell got a little better when the Red Devils traveled to Little Rock Parkview and came away with a 28-14, 7A/6A-East Conference victory.

The Red Devils (6-2, 4-1) are playoff bound after missing out during last year’s two-victory season. Facing conference powerhouse West Memphis at Jan Crow Stadium on Friday, the Red Devils still have a shot at a conference title, a first-round bye, a home playoff game or all three.

“You want to be playing your best football at the end of the year and that’s where we’re headed,” Russell said.

The Friday night smiles were welcome after Russell’s week started with a kitchen fire in his home that caused him to miss school and practice Tuesday while he dealt with the aftermath. Russell and his family willhave to relocate for a few months while the damage is repaired, but he was quick to point out it could have been worse.

“All those things at home can be replaced,” he said. “I’m just glad nobody was hurt.”

The coaches and players rallied around Russell, the former defensive coordinator in his first year as head coach, and gave him the best pick-me-up they could — a victory.

“I’m glad the football team could focus on Parkview last week in the midst of the distractions,” Russell said of his week.

Jacksonville rallied to a 14-14 halftime tie, drove for a touchdown on the first possession of the second half and then recovered an onside kick leading to another score. The 14-point swing was a plus for the defense, which had last been on the field during the first half, Russell said.

“The first half was back and forth. It was a football game,” Russell said. “Parkview is a very good football team.”

In beating the Patriots, the Red Devils avenged yet another of last year’s losses with a chance to do the same this week against a West Memphis team that won 42-0 last year. The Blue Devils (7-1, 5-0) were the preseason conference favorites and have averaged 10 victories a year since 2004.

This season West Memphis, the defending conference champion that went 10-1 in 2009, is scoring an average 37.8 points a game while giving up an average 15.5. Jacksonville is averaging 24.5 points while giving up 10.7.

“They’ve got size, they’ve got speed and they’ve got strength,” Russell said. “They’ve got everything that a football team needs. On Friday night it’s going to be the best football team, no matter how good each position player is.”

West Memphis runs a multi-formation Wing T offense that thrives on misdirection and likes to pull its guards, Russell said.

“You’ve got to make a tackle or you know they’re going to go the distance,” Russell said.

Russell pointed out West Memphis thrives with three junior highs to feed the senior high program and a tradition of success that feeds upon itself.

“When you’re in a system where you’re expected to win, that’s what happens,” Russell said. “You get what you expect as a coaching staff and as players.”

But, Russell said, Jacksonville is working toward re-discovering those same expectations.

“We challenge the kids,” he said. “They work real hard, they follow through with the game plan. When you have good habits good things happen.”

Russell said he didn’t have a specific number of victories in mind when he started the year. Suffice to say, most of the Red Devils’ goals are still within reach.

“I never really get a pencil and a piece of paper and say ‘If we win this we can do that,’ ” Russell said. “I think that sells your kids short and your coaching staff short. We thought we could have a good season, we’re excited to be where we are but we feel like we could play better.”