Tuesday, October 23, 2012

SPORT STORY >> Devils flying high into Comets

Leader sports editor

Each game gets bigger for Jacksonville’s football team. In week nine of the season, the Red Devils are 5-0 in league play and has its toughest conference team to date in line next. The Mills Comets (5-2, 3-2) host the Red Devils on Friday.

Jacksonville (6-2, 5-0) is tied with Pulaski Academy for first place, and the two are scheduled to meet in week 10 for each team hopes is a duel for the league crown. But Mills, a 50-20 loser to the Bruins last week, still has a lot to play for. If the Comets win out and PA beats Jacksonville, then they will slip into a tie for second place and get the No. 2 seed in the state playoffs due to the head-to-head tiebreaker.

“We still have a chance for it,” Mills coach Pat Russell said of the two seed. “But we can’t worry about the next two. We have to worry about the next one. We need to bounce back. We got beat pretty badly. I thought we’d play a little better than we did, but this is a good bunch. They listen and do what’s asked of them, so I expect them to be able to bounce back.”

Mills’ flexbone offense centers around fullback Dewayne Davis, a Jacksonville resident who played for Jacksonville coach Rick Russell when he was a freshman at North Pulaski. Davis is approaching 1,000 yards this season. Specific season totals weren’t available, but Pat Russell said Davis averages nearly five yards per carry and right at 100 yards per game.

“He’s our workhorse, and he’s earned it,” Pat Russell said. “He runs hard and breaks tackles. When you run the option, you have to establish the fullback first, and he’s been a good one.”

The Jacksonville coach Rick Russell remembers Davis from North Pulaski.

“He was a wide receiver in ninth grade,” Rick Russell said. “You can tell by looking at him that he’s hit the weight room hard and become a big-time fullback. I’d say he’s right at 200 pounds and he’s strong.”

Mills’ most dangerous halfback is Floyd Pugh, the anchor to last year’s overall state 4x100-meter relay championship team. Pugh and other halfbacks will also line up in the slot on occasion.

“It’s just a good team,” Rick Russell said of Mills. “They have a good offensive line push and run downhill very well. They have other backs that are really fast and their quarterback runs the option well. They’re just a good combination of power and speed. Any time you play a team like that, you have to try to hit them before they get started.”

In Jacksonville’s last game, a 13-7 win over Little Rock Christian Academy, the defense played well, while the offense sputtered. Jacksonville scored on its first drive and its last, but struggled in every drive in between.

“We have to protect a lot better,” Rick Russell said. “If you can’t protect, you can’t run it. Everybody has to do their one of 11, block until the whistle blows. And we have to take care of the football. We didn’t do those things very well last time out. We have to get back to doing what we did the first three or four weeks of conference.”

Jacksonville is also at full strength, with everyone who played the first game still healthy in week nine.

“We are healthy,” Rick Russell said. “In week eight of a football season, you either get used to the little bangs and bruises, or they’re not there. Either way, we’re not hearing about it. I think winning creates a good atmosphere and good attitudes. And that needs to continue this week. We have to win this game this week in practice.”