Saturday, October 25, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils topple North Pulaski

Leader sports editor

Homecoming night was a good one for Jacksonville, as the Red Devils routed crosstown rival North Pulaski 50-19 Friday at Jan Crow Stadium. The win makes Jacksonville 2-6 overall, but more importantly, 2-3 in the 5A-Central Conference. That means the Red Devils are still alive in the playoff race, and even still has a chance to finish as high as a No. 3 seed.

North Pulaski dropped to 1-6-1 overall and 1-4 in league play, and its playoff hopes are all but erased.

Most of the damage was done in a long, penalty-riddled first half, when Jacksonville built a 43-6 lead. The play of the game came late in the first half when Jacksonville coach Barry Hickingbotham was trying to put the margin at mercy-rule level before halftime.

After North Pulaski went 32 yards in four plays, a triple handoff was lost on the third exchange and defensive lineman Anthony Fields recovered it for Jacksonville at the Red Devil 29.

Senior running back Treasean Lambert picked up 13 yards on first down, but it was called back for holding. On first down from the 26, Jacksonville went to the back page of the playbook for the final score of the half.

Quarterback Brandon Hickingbotham hit Courtland McDonald about 8 yards down field near the Jacksonville sideline. McDonald leaped to make the catch, then in the same motion, tossed to Fields for the old hook and lateral. The 6-foot-2, 281-pounder outraced the entire Falcon defense for the 76-yard scoring play. John Herrmann’s PAT was good, making it 43-6 with 2:21 left in the half.

“We practiced that on Thursday,” said Fields. “I knew when he called the play I had to take it to the house.”

The head coach explained why Fields felt he had to score on the play.

“He came to me and told me if I called the play he would score on it,” Hickingbotham said. “That kind of put some pressure on me. So I put the pressure on him and he delivered. We had some guys from the 1957 team talk to them at halftime, and he gets a play like that. That’s something he’ll remember himself for the next 57 years.”

North Pulaski’s lone touchdown came on defense when Jacksonville, already leading 16-0, had third and 2 at the North Pulaski 4-yard line.

The snap exchange went awry, and while most players were mixed up in the scrum for the loose ball, North Pulaski’s Brady Rhodes already had it and was all alone running down the visitors’ sideline. Jacksonville’s Lamont Gause chased him down at the 10, but Rhodes broke the tackle and scored to make it 16-6 with 1:34 left in the first quarter.

It didn’t take the Red Devils long to get it back. On the first play of the ensuing drive, Brandon Hickingbotham swung a lateral out to Lambert, who cut back inside and went 73 yards for the score. Herrmann’s extra point made it 23-6 with 1:19 left in the first period.

North Pulaski put together a lengthy but fruitless drive and turned it over on downs after 10 plays at the Jacksonville 37.

Gause went 19 yards on first down. Sophomore quarterback Rowdy Weathers hit Wesley Williams for 8 yards, then Gause got the remaining 40 on a sweep left for another score. A bad snap on the extra point left it 29-6 with 8:05 left in the second quarter.

North Pulaski then went three and out before punting and setting up Jacksonville at its own 46. Avery Wells went 8 yards on first down and Weathers hit Maurice Young for a 3-yard reception. After a loss of 1, Weathers hit Gause on a screen to the left, and Gause made two cuts and raced 44 yards for another touchdown. This time the extra point was good, leaving it 36-6 with 4:11 left in the half.

Jacksonville scored first in the second half on fourth and 14. Hickingbotham hit Williams for 34 yards over the top of the defense. Tyler Hooper’s PAT made it 50-6.

North Pulaski then put together a nine-play, 61-yard drive and scored on a 1-yard run by Rhodes. A failed extra point left it 50-12.

On Jacksonville’s next drive, Falcon sophomore Kristopher Johnson picked off a pass that was knocked into the air to give the Falcons possession at the Red Devil 43.

After two 8-yard runs and a 1-yard loss, quarterback Michael Barnes hit Killian Oelrich for a 28-yard scoring strike. Oelrich then hit the extra point to set the final margin with 2:10 remaining in the game.

“The NP players kept fighting,” Hickingbotham said. “That’s a tribute to coach (Teodis) Ingram and his staff, and the character of kids he’s got playing over there. They never gave up and kept competing until the end.”

Jacksonville’s first score came on the game’s first drive when Gause capped a seven-play, 58-yard drive with a 10-yard run up the middle.

After the Falcons went for it on fourth down and failed, Gause then went 23 yards in one play to make it 14-0 with 8:09 left in the first quarter.

North Pulaski started on its own 32 on the next drive, and ended up punting from its own 15. The punt snap was high and went out of the back of the end zone to make it 16-0 with 7:08 left on the clock.