Monday, October 28, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Huge half does it for Red Devils

Leader sportswriter

Thanks to a monster first half by the Jacksonville offense, the Red Devils’ playoff hopes are still alive as they hammered Little Rock Christian 42-21 in Little Rock on Friday in what was a crucial 5A Central Conference matchup.

Jacksonville scored all 42 of its points in the first two quarters of play, and totaled an eye-popping 452 yards of offense in that time, led by running back Lamont Gause’s 236 rushing yards and three touchdowns on just 15 carries.

At halftime, the Red Devils led by a commanding 42-14 margin.

“They were ready to play,” said Jacksonville coach Rick Russell. “It’s a one-game season. Every game’s a playoff game for us. Now we’re 3-2 in conference. Mills is the game. That hopefully gets us in the playoffs, but it’s a one-game season from here on out for us.

“We explained that to the kids and they came mentally prepared, took care of business in the first half, and executed enough in the second half to get that clock down to zero.”

Part of the reason Jacksonville was held scoreless in the second half was due to the Warriors’ vast improvement at stopping Gause’s big-play ability, limiting him to just 12 yards on seven carries in quarters three and four. Still, the damage had been done, and Russell was very pleased with the junior back’s effort.

“He did a great job,” Russell said. “I don’t know how many yards he had, but he made the right decisions on his holes. He ran extremely hard and accelerated. He’s got a burst that’s hard to explain. He’s a big part of our football team. When he’s on, he’s pretty good.”

Gause finished the night with 22 carries for 248 yards and the three touchdowns. His first carry was the first play of the Red Devils’ first drive, and he took the handoff from quarterback Reggie Barnes and dashed 82 yards for the game’s first score. The extra point by kicker John Herriman made it 7-0 Jacksonville.

The Red Devil defense forced a three and out on the Warriors’ following possession, and with 5:36 to play in the first quarter, senior running back Damon Thomas capped a seven-play drive with a 33-yard touchdown run, and Herriman’s extra point made it 14-0 Red Devils.

Jacksonville (4-4, 3-2) scored on its next possession, on another seven-play drive that ended with Gause scoring on a 1-yard run. The successful PAT put Little Rock Christian (3-5, 1-4) in a 21-0 hole at the end of the first quarter.

The Warriors were finally able to put together a solid offensive drive at the start of the second quarter as it moved the ball deep into Jacksonville territory.

But a fumble by Little Rock Christian running back Hunter MacFarlane after a reception was picked up by the Red Devils’ Titus O’Neal, and O’Neal ran all the way down to the Warrior 18-yard line before being dragged down.

Two plays later, Thomas broke for a 12-yard touchdown run, and the PAT put Jacksonville up 28-0 with 9:44 to play in the second quarter.

Little Rock Christian was held to another three and out on the ensuing drive, and Thomas capped another scoring drive for Jacksonville with a 38-yard run. After Herriman’s PAT, Jacksonville led 35-0 with 5:17 to play in the half.

The Jacksonville defense finally gave up a score to the home team on the following drive. After completing an 11-yard pass to receiver Joe Hampton on the fourth play of the drive, Warriors quarterback Houston Angel went back to Hampton on the very next play, and Hampton broke free down the sideline for a 51-yard score with 3:47 left in the half.

After the successful PAT, Little Rock Christian went for an onside kick attempt as it trailed 35-7, but it failed, and four-plays later, Gause scored the final touchdown for the Red Devils on a 30-yard run with 3:17 to go in the second quarter.

Little Rock Christian’s offense found a way to answer before the half as Angel connected with Hampton again on another touchdown pass, this one from 13-yards out with 55 seconds remaining before the break. After the PAT, Jacksonville went into halftime leading 42-14.

The game’s one and only score in the second half came on Little Rock Christian’s first possession of the third quarter. The Warriors put together a 19-play, 93-yard drive that ended with Angel finding Hampton again in the end zone, this time on a 5-yard slant route with 3:28 to go in the quarter. The PAT set the final score.

Jacksonville could only manage 57 yards of offense in the second half, but that still put it over 500 yards for the game – finishing with 509, bettering the Warriors’ total of 372.

Gause was the star for Jacksonville’s offense, but Thomas had a solid showing as well as he finished with 10 carries for 86 yards and three touchdowns. Barnes did a good job of taking care of the ball as he finished the night with a 50 percent completion percentage, and a total of 133 yards passing with no turnovers.

Angel was 33 for 45 passing for 357 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. Hampton had eight catches for 113 yards and three scores.

Jacksonville will continue to fight for a spot in the class 5A playoffs next week against Mills University Studies at Jan Crow Stadium. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.