Tuesday, September 13, 2011

SPORTS >> Devils must play it forward

Leader sports editor

When the Hot Springs Trojan bus rolls into Jan Crow Stadium on Friday, it brings a team with many similarities to the their week 3 hosts. Hot Springs is similar to the Red Devils in more ways than one.

Both teams are 0-2, and both have made mistakes that gave their opponents more than enough help in winning.

Jacksonville’s football team had another moment in week 2 where things broke down. There were some bad breaks that left the Red Devils in a hole. For the second time, they were unable to overcome mistakes.

Last Friday’s 41-14 loss to Benton was close until a barrage of touchdowns turned a 7-6 Benton lead with less than two minutes to go in the first half into a 28-6 Benton lead by halftime.

Two special teams mishaps and an offensive turnover aided the three Panther scores that closed the second quarter.

After an great start to the second half, in which Jacksonville scored in just two plays to make it a 28-14 game, the team started pressing and as a result, lost some technique.

Red Devils coach Rick Russell says changing that is one of the keys to his team changing the way its season has gone.

“We have to learn to trust our technique and follow through with it,” Russell said. “Sometimes when we’re down, we try to do more than our technique requires. We showed them the film. It’s pretty crystal clear, offensively and defensively, why things broke down.”

Things haven’t gone very well for the Trojans so far either. The class 5A team lost 34-28 to Joe T. Robinson to start the season, then fell 18-7 to class 3A Glen Rose last Friday.

In Hot Springs, Jacksonville gets to face a team that runs a very similar offense to its own. Something Russell says is a plus.

“It helps in preparation during the week,” Russell said. “You’re reacting more than learning because you’ve already seen it.”

Hot Spring also brings a similar group of players to Jan Crow Stadium. The Trojans aren’t exceptionally big or deep, but they do have speed, and they will try to utilize it by finding openings on the outside.

“They’re very similar to us on offense,” Russell said. “They run some of the same formations. They have good slot receivers and running backs. Their running backs are more dangerous because they’re going to run it more than they throw it. They try to get athletes out in space on the edge and they’re pretty fast. They have some good athletes just like we do.”

All the similarities probably means the team that does better at eliminating mistakes will put its first notch in the W column.

Jacksonville’s biggest problem though hasn’t been initial mistakes but the problems that compound afterwards. After the loss to Benton, Russell said, “When a sudden change occurs, we have to find a way to get over that and comeback ready for the next possession. We have to work on the negatives and not get down on ourselves.”

The head Red Devil was very optimistic coming into the season, and remains so, believing the team is only a breakthrough away from being the team he expects.

“We’re still fighting,” Russell said. “It’s just little things. We’re still fighting the little things that keep us from becoming the team we think we can become. We just have to realize that mistakes happen, things go wrong, and when they do, there’s still a lot of football to be played. We have to learn to stay focused for four quarters.