Tuesday, September 27, 2011

SPORTS >> Red Devils’ toughest test yet

Leader sports editor

The Red Devils are coming off their best performance to date, especially on defense, after they shut out Mountain Home last Friday 27-0. The Bombers entered that game with a season-low scoring total of 27 points. This Friday, the Devils will need to be even better when they make another long road trip to Jonesboro.

As good as Mountain Home was in scoring 34, 37 and 27 in wins over Nettleton, Harrison and Batesville respectively, Jonesboro has scored more against much better competition. All of Mountain Home’s competition was from class 5A; only one of Jonesboro’s was.

Unlike Mountain Home, the Hurricane won’t enter their matchup with Jacksonville undefeated. Like Mountain Home, their low point output so far this season is 27. The difference is that Jonesboro put 45 on Greene County Tech, 35 on Conway, 27 on Fayetteville and 56 on Parkview. Jonesboro lost 49-35 to Conway and 50-27 to Fayetteville, two teams that will almost certainly finish in the top two or three in their 7A conferences.

Jonesboro’s offensive prowess is not lost on Jacksonville coach Rick Russell.

“We have to be good,” Russell said. “There’s no question this is the best team we’ve played so far this year. We’ve made a lot of progress the last couple of weeks, but what we’re going to have to do is keep getting better. We feel good about our chances in the football game, but we’re going to have to elevate our performance and execution, that’s for sure.”

Jonesboro’s offense starts with senior running back Zac Brooks, who has scholarship offers from Arkansas, Ole Miss, Stanford and a number of other major Division I colleges. While Brooks is the team’s best college prospect, he’s not its fastest player.

“They’ve got another one a little bit faster than him,” Russell said. “He’s smaller, but they have playmakers all over the field.”

Junior Martin Stafford played safety last year, but has become a major offensive weapon this season.

Of course the man that makes things go in Jonesboro’s spread offense is quarterback Moe Malugen. Malugen is similar to Mountain Home’s quarterback, who Jacksonville shut down. The main differences are that Malugen is a senior instead of a sophomore, and has more and better weapons to whom he can deliver the ball.

“He leads the show really well,” Russell said of Malugen. “It’s tough to get him in trouble because he’s so elusive. His receivers do a good job of coming back to the ball. They’ve made a lot of yards and a lot of big plays after he has escaped the pocket. We’re going to try to get pressure on him, but we’re going to have to get precise pressure on him because he’ll hurt you if he escapes.”

Jacksonville is getting better, and it’s not just because the scores indicate it.

Defensive end Braylon Terry has come on strong in recent weeks and worked his way into the starting lineup. That allowed Carter Grandison to take over as starting center. A spot that was troublesome the first two weeks, indicated by the frequent snap miscues.

“That’s been a big positive for this team,” Russell said. “The main thing it does is gives us a bigger and stronger offensive line. Carter’s got a little more size and strength and we’ve seen improvement in that area.”

The Red Devils are also getting healthy. Everyone should be at or very near full speed this week.

“We’re going in the right direction,” Russell said.