Tuesday, November 02, 2010

SPORTS>>Devils seeking seeding in trip to face Patriots

By Todd traub
Leader sports editor
There are plenty of good reasons for Jacksonville to win Friday’s regular season finale at Marion.

Winning for the sake of winning, however, is still No. 1 for first-year coach Rick Russell and the Red Devils.

“I want to go 1-0 this week,” Russell said.

But Russell readily discussed all the other elements at play Friday night. Jacksonville (6-3, 4-2 7A/6A-East) is tied with Marion for second in the conference and could lock up the No. 2 seed, a home playoff game and a first-round playoff bye while posting seven victories for the first time since it won a conference championship in 2006.

“Huge,” Russell said of the implications. “The No. 2 seed is on the line with the first-round bye. You kind of let your kids get rested, then you get to go watch the two teams you could be playing the Friday night before.

“For rest and for scouting purposes it’s a big game. We definitely want to win.”

Russell said none of his players have major injuries, but by Week 10 it is clear the season has taken a toll, making a week off before starting the postseason all the more important.

“I was watching some of the football games this weekend,” Russell said. “Some people, especially on the college level, were saying most people are 75 percent right now.

“We’ve had four physical ballgames in a row. We’re a little sore; we’re a little tender. We don’t have any major, season-endinginjuries right now but we’ve just got to get well.”

The most recent of those physical ballgames was last week’s 37-13 conference loss to likely champion West Memphis, a 7A school that plays in the mostly 6A conference and will compete in the 7A playoffs.

The Blue Devils raced to a 21-0 halftime lead before Jacksonville got on the scoreboard with help from a 52-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Kenny Cummings.

If there was anything to criticize in Jacksonville’s performance, Russell said, it might have been a premature sense of urgency caused by the early deficit.

“We have to make sure we maintain our focus no matter what the situation is in the game,” Russell said. 

“That was one of the things I took away from the game. Sometimes there are some highs and some lows. 

A couple lows back to back, we’ve got to stay focused and go back to our technique and not try to get back in it in a hurry.”

Yet the Red Devils weren’t discouraged by their first loss in four games, and despite the late-season aches and pains they were ready to get back on the field almost immediately, Russell said.

“The No. 1 thing is the kids, after the game, were saying ‘Coach let’s practice in pads Monday,’ ” 

Russell said. “Monday is usually a light day. We wear shorts and go through game film.”

Russell said that attitude is one of the fruits of the labor the Red Devils have been putting in since practice began in the summer.

“All year long I think we’ve had great senior leadership. It’s a good group,” Russell said. “Most of all of them play, whether it’s on special teams or on offense or defense. We’re getting some good senior leadership. The rest of the football team is very competitive.

“That’s what we tried to install in them early in August.”

Whether Jacksonville finishes with seven victories, or six, it has at least assured itself of another game in the second season after winning two last year.

“We took care of business the first five weeks of conference,” Russell said. “We got to put ourselves in this position and we’re ready to take what we’ve done and add to it this week against Marion and keep going.”