Tuesday, October 25, 2011

SPORTS >> Jacksonville excited to play West Memphis

Leader sports editor

One goal is accomplished. Jacksonville has all but secured a home playoff game. But the Red Devils aren’t resting on that. They believe they can go to West Memphis and beat the five-time defending conference champions this Friday.

Injuries have depleted the roster, but that didn’t stop Jacksonville from turning in its best performance of the season last week against Little Rock Parkview. The Red Devils’ defense shined in the 9-0 win over a Patriot team that had averaged 31 points per game. What might be lost in that final score is how well the offense played. Jacksonville compiled 309 total yards and moved the ball up and down the field. The trouble came when it got close to the goal line.

Jacksonville hopes to continue that execution, and complete the drives this Friday. The Blue Devils have been somewhat of a conundrum this season. They are 7-1 overall, but have seen similar final scores in wins over teams as disparate as Fort Smith Southside (26-17) and Blytheville (28-14).

They suffered their first loss of the season two weeks ago against Jonesboro and struggled to a 21-14 win over Mountain Home last week.

Still, the Blue Devils will have big depth and size advantages against the Red Devils. Jacksonville coach Rick Russell also says West Memphis is very difficult to prepare for.

“They have so many different formations,” Russell said. “All we did on Monday was learn to line up. We have to recognize where we need to be based on their formation. After you get lined up, you got to know your reads. You’ve got to know your coverages based on their alignment.”

West Memphis is primarily a running team this year. The Blue Devils have had a balanced attack the last several years, but the 2011 Blue Devils try mainly to run over opposition.

“They’re going to have strong backs,” Russell said. “They’re going to block with those backs at the point of attack. Their receivers block very well. They’re just going to try to power football us.”

West Memphis’ offensive strengths make Jacksonville’s defensive goals clear.

“We want to get them in long yardage situations on second and third down,” Russell said. “We want them running to the sideline until we get people up there to make the tackle. We have to contain their sweeps, keep them in front of us and stretch things out. We want to force them to do things they’re not comfortable doing.”

Offensively Jacksonville will stick to the wildcat that it unveiled as its primary formation last week. Junior Kevin Richardson racked up 125 yards rushing out of the formation. The key will be completing drives once in the red zone. Last week, Jacksonville scored only twice, with only one touchdown, out of several trips inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. Everything from fumbles to broken plays and penalties helped thwart promising drives once the end zone was in sight.

“That’s the last piece of the puzzle that we have to fine tune for us to be a complete football team,” Russell said. “It’s a decision you have to make once you’re down there inside the 5-yard line or so, whether to go under center or stay in the offense that got you there. Right now it’s a struggle for us to figure out which one we fit best in. But we have to do no matter what is eliminate some of the penalties that are backing us up once we’re down there. We need to understand how urgent it is, keep holding our blocks and put it in.”

Jacksonville will still miss the four starters that did not play against Parkview, but the play of several younger players last week has Russell worried less about that problem.

“We’re just so proud of all those kids that stepped up,” Russell said. “We believe if we can get the same kind of effort out of them, and this team, we can keep this thing close and go into the fourth quarter with a chance to win the football game. We’re excited about how we played last week and about how we executed the new offense. We’re pretty much assured a home game in the playoffs and every win is an added bonus. So we’re looking forward to these last two against two very good football teams.