Tuesday, September 18, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Jacksonville excited to be at home

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Red Devils have officially played one home game this season, but they’ll technically be playing their home opener when they host Helena-West Helena Central this Friday to also open conference play. Jacksonville’s season opener at War Memorial Stadium counted as a home game for the Red Devils, but this week’s matchup against the Cougars will be the first game the team plays on its actual home field at Jan Crow Stadium.

The Red Devils saw drastic improvement in their ability to move the ball up and down the field in last week’s win over the Maumelle Hornets. As they open conference play this week at home against Helena-West Helena Central, they’ll need to work on completing those drives and getting the ball into the end zone.

Despite 404 total yards, Jacksonville scored just12 points in last week’s win. Quarterback Aaron Smith had his best game so far this season, running the spread option read to near perfection. He finished with 30 carries for 185 yards. He also passed for 162 yards. His best target was senior Kevin Richardson, who also had his best game, finishing with four catches for 134 yards and a touchdown.

“Those two guys, since the beginning of spring ball, have been our two go-to guys,” Jacksonville coach Rick Russell said. “We’ve seen some other guys step up, but we’ve been waiting for those two to break out. They’re seniors. They’re leaders on this football team and we need them to play like that for us to be at our best. That was great to see. Aaron was phenomenal. He made great reads, great decisions, great cuts. His performance Friday night was one of the best in the state. Our offense is getting better and better and when he makes good decisions, it can be hard to stop.”

There was still the problem with punching into the end zone. Russell believes he’s seen a work in progress so far, and expects that to continue this week.

“We’re going to have to play a complete game against a good team like Helena,” Russell said. “I think we played about 26 minutes of good football against Cabot, about 32 minutes against Benton and maybe 40 at Maumelle. So we’re getting closer to be where we want to be, and we’re going to be looking for a full 48 minutes this week. It’s conference time and that’s when you need to be at your best. That’s what those first three games are for, to get ready for this right here.”

Like Jacksonville, Helena-West Helena Central enters the game 1-2 against nonconference opponents. The Cougars have had very mixed results so far. The last two weeks have seen Central pitch a 41-0 shutout against Marianna, then lose 43-0 to 5A powerhouse Wynne. Russell doesn’t bother with what they’ve done so far.

“Helena is going to be big up front,” Russell said. “They’re going to have speed. Their wide receivers are definitely threats. The quarterback is mobile and executes the screens very well. We’re going to have to play great technique every play on defense. If there’s 80 plays in a game, we can do everything perfect for 75 of them, and Helena is the kind of team that can score four or five touchdowns on those other plays from anywhere on the field.”

Russell is more comfortable with the prospects of his team doing that after last week. The Red Devils held an athletic Maumelle team to just 185 total yards and one touchdown after giving up several big plays in a loss at Benton the week before.

“Anytime your opponent has athletes that can run, you can’t let them get started,” Russell said. “You have to stop them before they get to full speed. So we’re going to have to tackle well and get 11 hats on the football. I think we did a pretty good job of that for the most part at Maumelle. We’re going to have to be even better against Helena.”