Tuesday, September 04, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Moving forward is Devils’ objective

Leader sports editor

Overcoming adversity was the theme at practice after Jacksonville lost its football season opener to Cabot last Tuesday.

Beginning Monday, the theme has been game preparation for Friday’s 7 p.m. road game against the Benton Panthers.

“The kids responded really well,” Jacksonville coach Rick Russell said. We talked about when mistakes happen, we need to rise to the occasion instead of letting that interfere with how we attack each play and perform.”

After preaching putting bad things behind, the coaching staff would be remiss to dwell on what went wrong against Cabot. While those things were addressed and attempts were made to correct them, there were also some positives that came from last Tuesday’s performance.

“We need to be physical every play and I think our defense was,” Russell said. “We feel good about what we’re doing on defense. They know what to do and how to do it. They’re communicating well. And I thought our interior linemen held their own against Cabot as well as any group we’ve had since I’ve been here.”

Benton also suffered several mistakes in its season-opening loss to Arkadelphia, which happened to take place at War Memorial Stadium right before Jacksonville and Cabot took the field.

The Red Devils only watched the first quarter before going to the locker room to get ready for their game, but the game film shows some things they have to be aware of come Friday night in Saline County.

“That number one (senior running back Wallace Foote) is a very fast player who’s very elusive in space,” Russell said. “We’re going to have to play great technique and when we get a hand on him, we’re going to have to be good tacklers. I think every running play they ran except one went to him or the quarterback keeping it. So we know who we have to key on.”

Benton won just three games last year, but one of them was a 41-14 blowout of Jacksonville at Jan Crow Stadium. That game exemplifies what Russell has been talking about since last Tuesday.

“We’re in the lead in the second quarter and they score, just bang, bang, bang right before halftime, and we never recover from it,” Russell said. “You make a mistake like that, you have to take a breath, get over it and move onto the next play. They’ve got athletes and opponents are going to make big plays from time to time. We have to have a short memory, continue with our technique and keep playing. I think if we can do that, we’re going to have a great football team.”

The Red Devils are still set at quarterback even though starter Aaron Smith and co-starter Kevin Richardson each left the Cabot game midway through the third quarter. Smith was suffering from cramps. Russell says he probably could have continued, but the team trainer recommended he not go in.

“In my honest opinion we have the best team trainer in the state of Arkansas in Dr. Calhoun,” Russell said. “If he recommends something, we go by that.”

Richardson left with a knee injury after a 49-yard kickoff return, but it was only a bruised knee. Both players have been at practice and at full speed this week.

That doesn’t mean they’ll be the only ones taking snaps. Junior Reggie Barnes finished the Cabot game at quarterback and has continued to progress in practice.

“I thought Reggie did a good job of coming in and managing the game for us,” Russell said. “He’s continued to improve and he could become another factor for us. We just want to make sure we have players in there at the right spots at all times. I don’t think there’s going to be many changes, but there will be a few changes like there always are.”