Wednesday, October 30, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Jacksonville faces another crucial game

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Red Devils pulled their record to even and their conference mark above .500 for the first time this season with last week’s 42-21 victory over Little Rock Christian Academy. Jacksonville (4-4, 3-2) still finds itself tied for fourth in the 5A Central and in a battle for a playoff spot. The Red Devils host the team they’re tied with at 7 p.m. this Friday night when Mills University Studies pays a visit to Jan Crow Stadium.

The Comets (6-2, 3-2) and Red Devils have beaten the same three teams and both have a close loss to Sylvan Hills on their ledgers. Jacksonville lost at West Helena to open conference play while Mills lost last week to Pulaski Academy.

While Mills’ overall record is better, Jacksonville played a much tougher nonconference schedule. A quick comparison of conference games against common opponents indicates an even matchup this Friday.

Jacksonville beat North Pulaski by one more point than did Mills, and both teams beat LRCA by the exact same score. McClellan gave Mills a bit of trouble in the first half of their 28-14 final, while Jacksonville controlled its 31-6 game with the Lions from beginning to end.

Nothing has changed about Jacksonville’s approach to this week’s game. The opponent doesn’t matter as much to coach Rick Russell as his team playing as well as it can.

“Ever since the Sylvan Hills game, it’s been a series of one-game seasons,” Russell said. “We’ve really stressed that the time is now. We’re still in that same situation. The kids have responded well. Hopefully we can do it again.”

Russell’s squad played its best game of the year last week, rolling up all 42 of its points in the first half. The Warriors scored midway through the third quarter and that set the final margin. The defense did its job the rest of the way while the offense went into clock-killing mode.

“We had a game plan to keep it on the ground and run that clock,” Russell said. “They were putting more in the box and that made it tougher, but we stuck with our strategy. The defense played tremendous in the second half.”

Tailback Lamont Gause had his best game of the year, rushing for 236 yards and three touchdowns. He was the beneficiary of excellent blocking on the lines and outside.

“He broke some tackles and made some people miss, but he had big holes open for him by the line, and the receivers did a great job on the outsides,” Russell said. “The receivers’ blocking has improved so much. We’re very proud of them all.”

Mills will give Jacksonville a look like nothing its seen since before conference play began. Russell said the Comets are more similar to Maumelle in scheme than other teams its played. JHS’s last five opponents have run the spread.

“They’re going to try to open holes for that fullback,” Russell said. “They’re going to run that option and we’re going to have to play assignment football. We have to stay disciplined. I’d say Mills is just as athletic as Helena and quite a bit bigger. So we have to do our jobs and do them well.”