Wednesday, September 21, 2011

SPORTS >> Devils won't revel in win

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville just got its first win of the season, and it was cathartic for the Red Devils, who were reeling from two straight losses after much optimism in preseason.

The celebration can’t last, as it now prepares for a long road trip to Mountain Home to face a Bomber squad that appears to have made a dramatic turnaround in coach Benji Mahan’s second season.

The Bombers entered the season on a nine-game losing streak after winning only its season opener last year. They are 3-0 this season, with their biggest win coming last week against longtime nemesis Batesville 27-20. It was their first win over the Pioneers in four years.

In weeks one and two, they beat Nettleton 34-12 and Harrison 37-0.

Mahan, a former Arkansas Razorback and assistant coach for Barry Lunney Sr. at Fort Smith Southside and Bentonville, attributes the turnaround to the commitment of his players to his
 approach to preparation, and their hard work.

“The work they’ve put  in since November, they’ve really bought in to what we’re trying to do in offseason,” Mahan said. “The belief and trust they have in each other has been remarkable too.

They’ve really come together as a team and made a commitment to getting stronger and to each other. We’re a much stronger and more physical team than we were last year.”

This year’s Bombers are groundbreakers as well, at least they think so. Mahan played for Mountain Home in the late 80s. He, nor anyone he has talked to, can remember the Bombers starting a season 3-0.

“It’s kind of something new for this community,” Mahan said. “People are pretty excited about it.”

Mahan and the MHHS staff had a secret coming into the season. His name is Drake Walker and he’d never taken a snap in a high-school football game before week one this year. The sophomore starter has exceeded even Mahan’s expectations so far.

“There’s a lot of things that contribute to this team, but the biggest story is our quarterback,” Mahan said. “We knew what kind of player we had in Drake, but I think the secret’s out to the rest of the conference. I knew he was going to have success, but I thought it was going to be with his arm. For him to also have the success he’s had with his feet is very encouraging because it gives you another dimension to your offense we don’t necessarily know we were going to have.”

The Bombers also have some good backs, and will get its fastest player back from injury this week.
“Ethan Britt is back,” Mahan said. “He’s our fastest guy so he really helps keep the defenses more honest.

To go with Britt, the Bombers have several athletes they feel comfortable handing the ball. In Britt’s absence, Damon Berry, Tyler Starch and Hunter Thorpe all played significant roles in offensive productivity.

Jacksonville brings a team to the game that maybe cured some ills with its first win last week. Mahan doesn’t believe the team has played up to its full potential, and hopes this week isn’t the week the Red Devils put it all together.

“You can just look at them and tell they have some great athletes,” Mahan said. “Anytime you play Jacksonville you’ve got to be concerned with the type of players they put on the field. They’ve got guys all over the field that can make things happen when they get the ball in their hands. Now they have that quarterback too, (Tirrell) Brown. He’s big, he’s strong and man, he can throw that ball. He’s tough to bring down even if you get to him, and if he has time, he does a great job of finding guys that can catch the football.”

The Red Devils and Bombers kickoff at 7 p.m. Friday.