Saturday, November 02, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Mills puts end to Red Devils’ playoff hopes

Leader sports editor

Too many negative plays and too many times putting the ball on the ground cost Jacksonville a win and a chance at the postseason Friday night, as the Mills Comets got away from Jan Crow Stadium with a 21-14 victory to take over fourth place in the 5A Central.

Jacksonville could still finish in a tie for fourth place if they are able to pull off an upset of first-place Pulaski Academy next week, but that can only put them in a tie for fourth place, and since the Red Devils have lost to all three teams ahead of them in the standings, they can’t win a tiebreaker.

The Red Devils couldn’t get the passing game clicking in the first half, and kept fumbling in the running game. They only lost two of the four fumbles in the first half, but the others went for big yardage losses.

Mills, 7-2, 4-2, led 14-0 at halftime, and held the ball for 10:57 in the third quarter, but Jacksonville’s defense came through with the key play that got the home team back into the game.

The Comets were on the 13th play of their second drive of the second half, facing third and 11 at the Jacksonville 28-yard line. Quarterback Omar Avance rolled right and threw downfield, where linebacker Durrell White intercepted the ball at the 13. White broke a tackle at the point of the catch, another at the 25, got some good downfield blocking, and ran over Avance at the Comet 45 before going the rest of the way untouched for an 87-yard interception return for a touchdown. The extra point made it 14-7 with 1:40 left in the third quarter.

Jacksonville, 4-5, 3-3, then stopped Mills on downs and got the ball back on its own 39 with 11:32 left in the game. That’s when the passing game finally began to work as planned.

Quarterback Reggie Barnes missed his first pass attempt of the drive, but that was the only incompletion of the possession.

He hit Kajahn Daniels for 6 yards on third and 5. Later, Barnes needed 21 yards for a first down and got it with a pass to the Mills sideline to Robert Harris. Another pass to Daniels set up first and goal at the 8. After no gain by tailback Lamont Gause, Barnes left the field and Gause lined up at quarterback. The snap went through his hands for a 16-yard loss on Gause’s fourth fumble of the game.

Barnes came back on the field and hit Daniels for 10 yards on third down. Then on fourth and goal from the 14, Barnes’ pass intended for Harris was tipped. It sailed over and behind Harris, but right into the arms of receiver Terrell Moore for the score. The extra point tied with 8:05 left in the game.

It didn’t stay tied for long. Jacksonville elected to kick deep, and paid for it. Mills’ receiver Jaylen Clark fielded the kick at the 5-yard line and ran it back to the Jacksonville 11. On the next snap, Calen Peters took the option pitch 11 yards for the touchdown, making it 21-14 with 7:46 left in the game.

On Jacksonville’s next possession, Barnes took a huge hit while scrambling from Mills linebacker Tyler Geter, and didn’t return. He also fumbled on the play and Mills’ D’Marrio Allen covered it at the Red Devil 42.

Jacksonville stopped the drive on downs when Brandon Toombs stopped Peters for no gain on fourth and 1, but the Red Devils’ offense couldn’t get anything going the rest of the game.

Robert Knowlin played quarterback the first series without Barnes as Jacksonville tried to switch to the read option from the spread, but Mills was too fast and the Red Devils lost 8 yards before punting with three minutes to go and all three time outs remaining.

They were able to force a three-and-out possession and got the ball at their own 7-yard line with 2:33 left.

This time, junior Caleb Price took over at quarterback as Jacksonville was forced to try to throw the ball. He completed three of his first four passes on the drive, including one for 25 yards to Harris, but was sacked twice. After an illegal-procedure penalty on third and 17, his fifth pass was picked off by Jacob Cranford with 32 seconds remaining, ending Jacksonville’s chances.

The Red Devils lost three fumbles and threw two interceptions, both by Cranford.

Mills finished with 348 total yards to 231 for Jacksonville.

Barnes completed 13 of 23 passes for 138 yards, including 8 off 11 for 97 in the second half. Price went 3 for 5 for 27 yards. Gause carried 15 times for 61 yards, including a 53-yard run in the first quarter.

Jacksonville travels to Pulaski Academy for its season finale. The Bruins are 9-0 and 6-0, and beat Sylvan Hills 49-25 on Friday. Mills play at home against Helena-West Helena Central next week in a game with major playoff implications.