Tuesday, November 06, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Devil Dogs score points

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville enters its first-round playoff game at Morrilton on a two-game losing streak. After starting the conference schedule with five consecutive wins, the Red Devils lost in the final minute to Mills in week nine and fell 51-7 to Pulaski Academy in their final regular-season game. That dropped the Devils to third place and forces them west for a first-round game against the 7-2 Devil Dogs.

Jacksonville coach Rick Russell noticed some lingering disappointment from this team during Saturday meetings, but says the team bounced back well.

“We don’t want losing to not bother them,” Russell said. “We don’t want them to be ok with that feeling. But we want them to have a short memory and I think they do. Monday they came back to practice and had a great attitude. It was cold and wet, but they worked through those conditions and we had a pretty good practice. From this point we won’t look backwards. Our only focus is the game this week.”

Morrilton finished 6-1 in conference play with its only loss coming against 5A West champion Greenbrier. The Devil Dogs have a potent offense that has averaged 32 points per game this season. In its final four games since the loss to Greenbrier, Morrilton has averaged 45 points per game in wins over Vilonia, Huntsville, Harrison and Clarksville. The Devils Dogs have given up just 10.8 points in those four wins.

“I think we’ve been playing pretty well offensively the last few games,” Morrilton coach Cody McNabb said. “We’ve thrown it a little more in those games than we had been and we’ve been fortunate enough to score some points. But I don’t know that we’ve gone up against a defense quite as athletic as Jacksonville’s in any of those games.”

Jacksonville has held opponents to two scores or fewer in six of its 10 games. Only 7A Cabot, 6A Benton, juggernaut Pulaski Academy and McClellan, who surprised the Devils by fielding DI athlete Ackee Johnson for the first time this season, scored more than 14 points against Jacksonville this year.

McNabb noticed the defense during film study over the weekend.

“I was impressed with their defense,” McNabb said. “Their ability to move; they just don’t seem to stay blocked for very long. To me they look like they’re a lot bigger than we are. We’ve been able to score some points this year but we’re going to have our work cut out for us this week for sure.”

Morrilton’s biggest scoring threat is running back/receiver Jamar Chriswell (5-10, 165), but the Devil Dogs have several skill players with breakaway speed. They also have a Division I offensive tackle in Gilberto Garcia (6-1, 270) who has committed to the University of Central Arkansas.

Russell’s biggest concern is Morrilton’s team speed.

“What they do is they line up in formations where they could run four different plays out of that same formation and movement,” Russell said. “So we’ve got to play great technique and assignment football on defense. We’ve played a few other teams that do this same thing, but I think Morrilton has that breakaway speed at every skill position. So we’re going to have to be very good on defense. This could be one of those games that comes down to four or five plays and we want to win those plays.”

Jacksonville may not have the overall team speed that Morrilton has, but it does have more speed than most teams in Morrilton’s conference, according to McNabb.

“You start with making sure you know where number 15 (Kevin Richardson) is,” McNabb said. “He’s one of the faster guys we’ve seen this year. But I’m also impressed with their quarterback (Aaron Smith) and number 5 (Lamont Gause). You can’t just key on 15 because they’ve got some other guys that’ll beat you if you do. That quarterback can pull it down and make some plays with his feet. The running back doesn’t look very big, but he sure looks harder to get down than he should be. He’s got good quickness, and he can break tackles.”

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Morrilton High School.