Saturday, September 22, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils pick off Cougars

Leader sports editor

A rough start finally smoothed out for Jacksonville while things kept getting bumpier for Helena-West Helena Central. The Red Devils dazzled in their home opener, beating the Cougars 35-0 at Jan Crow Stadium on Friday. With starting quarterback Aaron Smith sitting out with a deep thigh bruise on the heels of his best game to date last week, junior Reggie Barnes turned in a nice performance, completing 13 of 21 passes for 171 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

“He was outstanding,” Jacksonville coach Rick Russell said. “He made the right reads and he took care of the ball for the most part. He made the one bad throw very early and after that he was outstanding. I couldn’t be more pleased with his performance. He’s looked like that in our last two JV games. We tell him those games are preparation for Friday night. And he carried over just what he had been doing in those games to this one.”

The defense was even better than last week when it held Maumelle to 165 total yards. The Red Devils gave up just 106 total yards to the Cougars, with the last 12 on the throwaway play before the buzzer ended the game. The Devil defense gave up just 29 total yards in the second half.

“They play a similar offense to ours and you have to play assignment football,” Russell said. “We did that tonight. We played smart and flew to the football. And we tackled when we got there. We didn’t have anybody getting loose after missed tackles. This was a great total team effort tonight.”

Senior receiver Kevin Richardson had his best game of the season for the second consecutive week. Offensively Richardson caught five passes for 99 yards and two touchdowns, and carried one time for 11 yards and another score. On defense, he recorded two interceptions, returning one 70 yards for the first touchdown of the game.

“He’s a complete player,” Russell said of Richardson. “He’s one of the fastest kids in the state. He’s smart. He’s goes hard. He’s just getting better and better and we’re going to need that to continue.”

Jacksonville’s first three drives ended with two punts and an interception. Helena-West Helena’s first two drives ended with one punt and two interceptions, both by Richardson.

The second was on third down and 14 for HWHC on its own 39-yard line. Quarterback Delane Bedford threw deep where Richardson outjumped the intended receiver, who fell down on the landing. Richardson raced straight up the visitors’ sideline where he ran into lots of traffic near the Cougar 35, but he tap danced through a pair of defenders then burst through another tackle and had clear sailing the remaining 30 yards.

Sophomore John Hermann kicked the first of five extra points to make it 7-0 with 5:10 left in the first quarter.

Braylin Terry stopped Helena’s next drive with an interception that set Jacksonville up at the Cougar 38. Barnes hit Richardson for 29 yards on first down to set up first and goal at the 9. Two plays later, sophomore running back Lamont Gause took the inside handoff, cut left, broke a tackle at the 5 and scored to make it 14-0 with 1:23 left in the first quarter.

Jacksonville forced a punt on HWHC’s next drive and took over at its own 48. On first down, Barnes rolled right after taking the shotgun snap. Patiently waiting for the play to develop, he found Gause streaking across the field and threw a strike. Gause turned up field for a 22-yard gain to the 30-yard line. Things went backwards for a few plays after that. An illegal procedure penalty was followed by a sack for an 8-yard loss. Xavier Amos got 13 of it back with a nice run, but Jacksonville was left with fourth and 10 at the 30. Helena-West Helena came with a blitz from the outside, but Barnes stood in the pocket to deliver a perfect pass over the middle to a streaking Richardson for a 30-yard touchdown connection. The PAT made it 21-0 with 10:05 left in the first half.

Jacksonville forced another punt and scored one more time before halftime. Barnes was flushed out of the pocket on third down and 11 and picked up 25 yards, but was hit late after going out of bounds. That gave Jacksonville another 15 yards to the Cougar 11, but Barnes missed the rest of the half.

Richardson took his place at quarterback and scored on the next play. He dropped back to pass, but after finding no one open, he ran left, broke a tackle and scored with 7:01 left in the half.

Helena-West Helena’s next drive chewed up most of the remaining clock. Jacksonville got two more interceptions on the drive, but the first was negated when Nykel Worthen was stripped from behind during the return. Worthen’s interception and fumble happened on fourth and 8, and gave the Cougars new life because the change of possession meant a new set of downs for HWHC (1-3, 0-1).

It didn’t matter. Seven plays later, Randy Armstrong got Jacksonville’s fifth pick of the half to close the second quarter.

Jacksonville had to punt on its first possession of the second half, but invoked the mercy rule on the next possession.

Starting from their own 31, the Red Devils marched 69 yards in nine plays. The final play was the final big hookup between Barnes and Richardson. This time it went for 38 yards and the game’s final touchdown.

Jacksonville (2-2, 1-0) finished with 240 total yards. The Red Devils will be back on the road at Little Rock McClellan next week.