Tuesday, November 08, 2011

SPORTS >> Red Devils hosting familiar first-round foe

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville’s football team is in the playoffs for the third time in four years. For the third time in four years, the Red Devils will host Sheridan in the first round at 7 p.m. Friday at Jan Crow Stadium.

Things have gone well for Jacksonville in the previous two meetings. The Red Devils narrowly escaped in 2008 with a 13-12 victory over a Yellow Jacket squad that was making its first-ever third-straight trip to the postseason. In 2010, things weren’t so difficult, as Jacksonville cruised to a 31-7 victory.

Now the Yellow Jackets are making their sixth-consecutive trip to the playoffs, but still haven’t been able to get that elusive playoff victory.

Jacksonville and Sheridan each have 5-5 records this season. Jacksonville enters the playoffs riding high after a minor upset over favored Marion to end the season. Sheridan comes in off a tough 28-21 loss to Texarkana, a game Sheridan coach Louis Campbell, who spent nearly two decades as an assistant coach as administrator at the University of Arkansas, believes his team should have won.

“We moved the ball on them and put ourselves in position to win the game,” Campbell said. “The defense couldn’t get off the field in third-down situations, and we turned it over three times. So it doesn’t matter how well you play most of the time, you do those things you’re not going to beat anybody, especially legitimate playoff teams like Jacksonville. We’re definitely going to have to improve in those areas or we’re going to get beat.”

Jacksonville began the season running primarily out of the pistol formation with senior Tirrell Brown taking almost all the snaps at quarterback. Later in the year the Red Devils began running a wildcat-style offense with junior Kevin Richardson engineering the show. In the last few games, both offenses have been utilized and with some success.

Recent history shows that Sheridan’s conference, the 6A South, has been a stronger league than Jacksonville’s 6AEast, but Campbell believes the East has closed the gap this year, and that Jacksonville’s offense presents some different challenges than his team has faced.

“They run a lot more wings and slots than we’ve seen this year,” Campbell said of Jacksonville. “They’ve got great athletes that can make people miss. We’ve seen on film where some of those kids have been able to turn nothing into big plays. That’s the thing that concerns me.”

Jacksonville’s versatility is also an advantage, according to Campbell.

“They do a lot of different stuff so you have a lot of stuff you have to prepare for,” Campbell said. “That does make it harder to hone in exactly they’re going to be doing come game time.”

One of Sheridan’s strengths this season has been its ability to keep from giving up the big play. Campbell gives his linebacker unit most of the credit for that.

“Our linebackers have played really well as a group,” Campbell said. “Except for a couple of games, our defense has done a good job of running to the football and making tackles.”

Sheridan has suffered some injuries this season at tailback, but they’ll be full strength this week.

“We’re probably as healthy as we’ve been in a while,” Campbell said. “We don’t have that as an excuse. We moved the ball pretty well last week, we’re just can’t turn it over like we did and expect to win.”