Tuesday, October 11, 2011

SPORTS >> Devils, Lions meet with a lot on the line

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville makes a short trip to Searcy this Friday to face a team bent on revenge. The Red Devils won 12-7 last year over a Searcy team that rolled into Jacksonville with a new coach and a lot of confidence from already having more wins than in previous seasons.

This year, the Lions are 4-2, which is one win more than this time last season, and enter this week’s game after a valiant comeback effort last Friday in a 34-24 loss to West Memphis. Jacksonville is 2-1 in league play while Searcy is 1-2. This game will be huge in determining seedings for the class 6A state playoffs.

Jacksonville coach Rick Russell believes his squad is going to catch Searcy at its best.

“I think they’re going to come into this game really focused,” Russell said. “I think they really expected to come in here and get a win last year, and they still have that motivating them.”

Searcy at its best, at least offensively, will be difficult to stop. The Lions have averaged 34.7 points per game this season, and have done it with a multitude of schemes. The main difference between this year’s Lions and last year’s is this year the team is running the ball much more often out of power sets. That’s forcing teams to scheme to stop the power running game, and opening things up for talented quarterback Desmond Stegall’s strong throwing game.

“Offensively they’ve been a machine,” Russell said. “They have a very big offensive line, and their linemen are moving a lot better than we’ve seen in the past. Plus, they’ve got a 6-foot-5, 230-pound tight end that can move and catch the ball.”

Russell said he’s seen film from Searcy’s games against Parkview and West Memphis, and each game highlights a different strength in the offense.

“Against Parkview, they controlled the line of scrimmage and ran the football,” Russell said. “West Memphis matched up with them a lot better. They attacked the line of scrimmage, so Searcy threw it a lot more. They had success doing both.”

And when there is pressure on the quarterback, Stegall is one of the best quarterbacks in the state, throwing and running.

“The thing about him is he has all the tools,” Russell said. Jacksonville is used to facing dual-threat quarterbacks. Mountain Home and Jonesboro also have very talented quarterbacks, and for the most part, Jacksonville has contained them well.

The Red Devils shut out Mountain Home, then held Jonesboro’s vaunted offense to just seven points for the first 35 minutes of the game. Suddenly the Hurricane scored 27 in the last 13 minutes to steal the win.

Still, Russell believes his defense can contain Stegall as well as it has other, similar quarterbacks.

“We’re not going to be able to go toe-to-toe with them on the line,” Russell said. “We have some stunts. We’re going to have to utilize our quickness and play very sound technique. We’ve got two guys on our line who are really quick, so we’re going to have to try to take advantage of that.”

Last week, Jacksonville enjoyed great play from a few sophomores who have worked their way into the main rotation. Russell was especially pleased with performances by Jacob Price at linebacker, Darrelle White at tackle and Titus O’Neal at defensive end.

“They all played some very productive reps for us Friday night,” Russell said. “I told everybody this week there are no starters. We have group one and group two, and we’re going to start competing in practice for the chance to play. When they get that chance, it’s all about what they do with it.”

Jacksonville may need a few junior varsity players to step up their game. Several starters are nursing injuries. None have been determined out for Friday yet, but some extra depth would be helpful.

“This has been really physical football in the 6A East this year,” Russell said. “Everybody has gotten bigger and stronger. It’s been a tough few weeks. We’ve got a lot of guys banged up, but that’s just football. We’re going to keep working.”