Tuesday, November 11, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils travel to Batesville

Leader sports editor

After a one-year hiatus, the Jacksonville Red Devils are back in the playoffs with a first-round game at 5A-East champion Batesville at 7 p.m. Friday. The Pioneers have not lost since a week-one defeat to Class 6A Jonesboro, including an upset of then No. 1 Wynne in week seven.

Jacksonville also enters the game on a win streak, though only three games instead of nine. But the Red Devils have gone toe to toe with three other playoff teams this season, including a two-point loss on a last-second field goal to undefeated 5A-West champion Maumelle.

Batesville has played in the last three state championship games but hasn’t yet been able to bring home the hardware. But Jacksonville coach Barry Hickingbotham knows his squad is facing a well-established and successful program.

“They’re trying to make it four state championship games in a row,” said Hickingbotham. “They’re used to success. The junior high program has won 23 games in a row. It’s a program that’s got things moving in the right direction. I look at this as an opportunity to go up there and show people how far we’ve come from where we started, and show that we’re heading in the right direction too.”

Batesville’s three-year starter Kenton Crawford at quarterback, is the key clog in making the Pioneer offense go. The home team will also boast a lot of depth at running back and receiver, rotating running backs and tight ends on every play.

“Pretty big offensive line, big receivers – they’re good at what they do,” Hickingbotham said. “They execute well on the line and they make room for those backs.

“I don’t think they have the kind of backs we’ve seen in this conference, but they execute that offense very well and they’ll break one for 70 if you’re not disciplined.”

Jacksonville may be at further disadvantage with key injuries on both sides of the ball. Defensive end Courtland McDonald is out with a groin injury.

Starting quarterback Bran-don Hickingbotham suffered an ankle injury away from practice and is listed as questionable for Friday.