Saturday, November 10, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> First-quarter blitz by Dogs buries Devils

Leader sportswriter

Morrilton’s 28 unanswered points in the opening quarter of Friday’s class 5A playoff opener put Jacksonville in too big of a hole to climb out of as the Red Devils fell 42-14 to the Devil Dogs at Morrilton High School.

After opening 5A Central Conference play with five straight wins, Jacksonville (6-5) lost its final two games in the regular season to drop to the No. 3 seed, and the Red Devils’ slide continued Friday.

Morrilton, led by junior quarterback Toney Hawkins, scored on its opening drive in just four plays. After a 24-yard run by Hawkins, the athletic quarterback scored two-plays later on a 6-yard run. The extra point gave the Devil Dogs a quick 7-0 lead.

“We gave them the ball in short field and they have a couple of guys that can make plays,” said Jacksonville coach Rick Russell about the first quarter. “Morrilton’s a good football team.”

The Devil Dogs forced the first turnover of the game on Jacksonville’s second drive. Junior defensive tackle Kieran Cole forced the ball out of quarterback Aaron Smith’s hands and Morrilton took over at the Red Devil 8-yard line.

Two plays later, senior running back Jamar Criswell punched in a 1-yard touchdown run to give Morrilton a two-score advantage. The Devil Dogs went up three scores with 2:39 left in the first when Hawkins connected with Jamar Criswell for an 8-yard touchdown pass.

Another Jacksonville turnover on the following possession allowed Morrilton to take over again in Red Devil territory. In four plays, the Devil Dogs scored their fourth touchdown of the quarter on another touchdown pass by Hawkins. This one came on a 30-yard pass to Rashad Criswell. The extra point put the Red Devils in a 28-0 deficit.

Jacksonville was able to adjust in the second quarter as the Red Devil defense held Morrilton scoreless for the remainder of the half. The Red Devils found the end zone for the first time with 2:11 to play in the half when Smith hit senior playmaker Kevin Richardson for a 27-yard touchdown toss.

In the second half, Jacksonville’s defense was unable to replicate its play in the second quarter as Morrilton was the first to put points on the board. Jamar Criswell found the end zone again on a 2-yard run with 6:18 to play in the third. The extra point put the Devil Dogs up 35-7. Jacksonville cut Morrilton’s lead to three scores on another touchdown reception by Richardson late in the quarter. The extra point made it 35-14.

Hawkins threw the final touchdown of the evening, a 26-yarder to Rashad Criswell on a wide receiver screen pass with 7:41 to play. The score capped off a 10-play drive. The extra point set the final margin.

“The kids played hard in the second half,” Russell said of his team. “Morrilton’s a good football team and I hope they do well in the playoffs. They have a lot of speed. We didn’t play great technique, but you have to tackle well in space, and those kids just made some good decisions and made good cuts. You have to make plays in space and they made us miss.”

Even though it was a rough ending to the Red Devils’ season, Russell says he will look back and be proud of the team for its play on the field, and the leadership that was shown throughout the season, especially from the seniors.

“I’m excited about what we did this year,” Russell said. “Our senior class did a good job leading. There are a lot of good football players in that group, and they can be proud of their season.”

Morrilton ended the game with 375 yards of offense. Jacksonville finished with 162. Smith completed 14 of 25 passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Richardson had nine catches for 102 yards and two touchdowns.

Hawkins completed 15 of 21 passes for 189 yards and three scores, and ran for another. Morrilton (8-2), the No. 2 seed from the West, will travel to Wynne (10-0), the No. 1 seed from the East, next Friday to kick off the second round of the playoffs.