Wednesday, June 19, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Devils impressive at Shootout

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville 7-on-7 football team finished second in its pool and advanced to the final eight of the Shootout of the South tournament last weekend in Little Rock. The Red Devils won four games and lost five, but advanced to the winners’ bracket on the second day of competition by dominating tournament host Pulaski Academy 33-14 on Saturday morning.

“Overall I thought it was a huge positive for our whole team,” Jacksonville coach Rick Russell said. “I was proud of the way our kids competed. To get to the final eight of the winners’ bracket with a chance to win it, that’s something. We were really close to getting to the final four, and the final four get an invitation to a national tournament. We were right there. We had a chance to go up two touchdowns in that last game. If we convert right there, it’s a different game.”

In the quarterfinal game, which was a rematch with Heritage Hall, a three-time class 3A state champion private school from Oklahoma City, Jacksonville led 14-7 and had first and goal at the 1-yard line, but that’s where things took a turn for the worse.

Reminiscent of its previous game against Allen, Texas, Jacksonville threw an interception in the end zone to make it 14-9, the first of four-consecutive possessions that ended in picks, and the first two of 31-straight points by the Chargers.

Unlike the second Allen game, Jacksonville regrouped against Heritage Hall and scored back-to-back touchdowns to close on a good note.

“It was frustrating because we should’ve done better,” Russell said. “They beat us on a late interception the first day and we felt like we should’ve won that game. They get the ball first in the rematch and we get a stop and then score. We get another stop and get to the one, and make a mistake. This was our first time on anything like that kind of a stage, with games going on five fields at once and thousands of people running around, and I thought we competed extremely well for the most part.”

Jacksonville faced Cashion, Okla., in its first game on Friday, and won handily 32-9. That moved them into its first game against Allen, Texas, the preseason overall number-one ranked team in Texas, and No. 4 ranked team in the nation by one national poll.

The Red Devils matched the Eagles score-for-score for half the game, but Allen broke a 21-21 tie with 23-straight points. Jacksonville finally stopped the onslaught with an interception by Kerry Knight with just a few seconds remaining, then completed a 40-yard touchdown pass from Reggie Barnes to Robert Harris as time expired to make it 44-30.

The Red Devils then reeled off back-to-back wins, beating Harrison 32-13 and overcoming a bad start and an 11-0 deficit to beat Little Rock Christian Academy 30-18.

Next was Little Rock Central, who roughed up the Red Devils in winning 28-21 in a game much more physical than 7-on-7 is supposed to be.

Several times Tiger defenders tackled Jacksonville receivers to the ground, and ran shoulder blocks into would-be receivers as passes approached.

Jacksonville coaches protested the physical play, but Central received no penalties or warnings.

Still, the Red Devils showed some moxie by overcoming the adversity and coming back from a 21-0 deficit to make it an exciting finish. Jacksonville scored with 1:29 remaining and forced a third-down (only three downs in 7-on-7) but Central converted and was able to run out the clock.

The Red Devils then closed the first day with a heartbreaking, 30-28 loss to Heritage Hall. The Chargers got a late pick to win the game.

The Red Devils came back Saturday morning to face Pulaski Academy, and dominated. The Bruins had beaten the Red Devils 14-7 on a last-second touchdown the week before in the Parkview tournament, but couldn’t stop Jacksonville on Saturday.

Jacksonville continued to make things difficult for PA’s offense, but had much less trouble with its own offense on Saturday.

“I thought that was our best overall game,” Russell said. “We were in control of that game from the first minute and never let go of it. We were in control of that second game with Heritage from the first minute, and we did let go. So the thing I’m excited about is that while I thought we did extremely well, we can still improve.”

The Red Devils suffered an emotional letdown after beating Pulaski Academy. The win advanced Jacksonville to a seeding rematch with Allen, Texas. Both teams were already qualified for the winners’ bracket tournament, with this game deciding who would be the one seed and who would be the two.

Allen scored on all seven of its offensive possessions and picked off three Jacksonville passes. Jacksonville managed no touchdowns and one pick to lose 55-2.

‘We relaxed after we beat PA,” Russell said. “That team has a lot of speed at every position and that gave us a lot of trouble, but we were not focused for that game at all. That’s one of the things we can work on. There are things we could have done a lot better. So we’re pleased, but we’re not satisfied. We’re going to add to the things we did right, and we’re going to correct the things we did wrong, and I think we have a chance to have a special year.”

Jacksonville is off for the two-week dead period before resuming play in the Cabot/Beebe competitions on July 8. The Red Devils will take the whole team to Jonesboro on July 18 for the linemen’s camp/7-on-7 tournament at Arkansas State University.