Saturday, November 15, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils score first, but lose to Batesville

Leader sportswriter

Jacksonville scored the first 14 points of Friday’s Class 5A playoff opener at top-seeded Batesville, but the host Pioneers scored the rest to win the first-round matchup over the visiting Red Devils by the final score of 33-14.

Senior tailback Lamont Gause scored both of the Red Devils’ touchdowns in the first quarter, and the Jacksonville defense got some key stops in the red zone throughout the first half, which helped the visitors go into halftime with a 14-12 lead.

However, the Pioneers (10-1) showed why they’re the No. 1 seed from the East Conference in the second half, and after they were able to build some momentum, Jacksonville (4-7) couldn’t keep up with the more talented team the rest of the way.

“These kids overachieved,” said Jacksonville coach Barry Hickingbotham of his scrappy team. “They played hard. You can’t underestimate those kids. I don’t want to say that Batesville was overlooking us or whatever.

“We came out and the kids played hard. We just had a few mental mistakes in the second half. They went down and scored on us and we just couldn’t get anything. We never could get field position. It kind of limits us when we’re having to start on the 20 every time.

“They’re (Batesville) a good football team. You don’t go to the state finals three years in a row if you’re not very good. So you got to give credit where it’s due, but I’m proud to be a Red Devil.”

Jacksonville’s first score came after Avery Wells intercepted Pioneer quarterback Kenton Crawford’s pass at the Red Devil 47-yard line. On the next snap, Gause took the handoff from quarterback Rowdy Weathers 53 yards off the left tackle for the game’s first score.

Jon Herrmann’s PAT was good, giving Jacksonville a 7-0 lead with 8:44 left in the opening quarter.

Jacksonville’s next score came with 2:03 left in that quarter. On second and four from the 20, Gause broke for an 80-yard TD burst, and Herrmann’s PAT put the Red Devils up 14-0.

It was all Batesville after that. A pair of field goals by kicker Osvaldo Espericueta cut the Jacksonville lead to 14-6, and with 52 second left in the half, the Pioneers converted a fake punt that led to their first TD of the night.

On fourth down at midfield, Crawford took the direct snap and threw out to teammate Sam Scaggs, who was wide open near the host team’s sideline. Scaggs took the pass 50 yards for the score. The two-point try was unsuccessful, giving Jacksonville the 14-12 lead at halftime.

Batesville got the ball at the start of the second half, and took its first lead of the night after running back Michael Robinson capped a six-play drive with a 3-yard TD run with 9:25 left in the third quarter. The PAT gave the host team a 19-14 lead.

Robinson added the next score on a 2-yard plunge with 5:04 remaining in the third, and after the extra point by Espericueta, the Pioneers led 26-14. The final score of the night came with 5:56 left in the game.

That lengthy 14-play drive ended with Crawford hitting receiver Riley Caraway on a 3-yard out in the end zone, and the PAT set the final score.

Despite the loss, the Red Devils got into the playoffs due to an unlikely turnaround. After losing six of their first seven games to start the season, Jacksonville won its final three regular-season games to get the fourth and final playoff spot from the 5A-Central.

The Red Devils’ season may have come to an end with Friday’s loss, but Hickingbotham couldn’t have been more proud of his players and the season they had, which was also his first as the JHS head football coach.

“It’s been awesome,” Hickingbotham said. “I’m glad to be back home. We had a great senior group. We expected a lot out of them and they led us. To start off the way we did tested our character, and the kids never quit. The kids never quit and they laid it all out there, man.

“That’s what we’ve preached from day one – to be able to walk off the field and look in the mirror and say that you gave it your best, and I think these guys can say that.”

Batesville finished the game with 443 yards of offense. Crawford was 12 of 22 passing for 199 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Robinson led the Pioneer ground game with 27 carries for 163 yards and two scores.

Jacksonville finished with 170 yards of offense, and Gause accounted for almost all of it. He finished his last game in a Jacksonville uniform with 17 carries for 167 yards and two scores. He also had an 11-yard reception. With the win, Batesville plays host to Greenbrier, who beat Watson Chapel last night 36-28, next Friday at 7 p.m.