Tuesday, June 09, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Devils on display at Crow

Leader sports editor

The Red Devil football team took the field for its first fundraising spring football game Friday at Jan Crow Stadium. The Clinton McDonald charity organization MACC-LID, which stands for McDonald Associates Collective Collaboration-Light Into Darkness, collected canned goods and household supplies as entry fee to the game, with donations going to Jacksonville Care Channel and Little Rock Ronald McDonald House.

The scrimmage was very controlled for the first hour, with no play clock and coaches taking as long as they wanted to call the next play and correct mistakes on previous ones.

Afterward, half the team donned red jerseys and each team took the ball for four overtime-type possessions that started at the 10-yard line.

The White team scored on its first two possessions while stopping the Red team twice with an interception and on downs. But the Red team bounced back, scoring on its last two possessions while holding the White team on downs two times, ending in a 14-14 tie.

Jacksonville coach Barry Hickingbotham liked the effort, but wasn’t pleased with how many mistakes he saw, especially on offense.

“We have a long way to go and a lot of work to do,” said Hickingbotham. “I think we had a few that did better than we expected, but we had a couple of drops by people I thought we could count on. We threw into coverage a few times and gave up the ball – just forcing the football a little bit. Defensively, I thought we’d tackle better. We didn’t wrap up a lot of times.”

It wasn’t all negative, however. Hickingbotham did find bright spots.

“I think we got better from the first day of practice to the last,” Hickingbotham said. “You can see signs of progress. I thought Shawn Ellis looked good running the ball. He’s going to be a sophomore that looks like he can help us. Avery Wells made some plays for us on both sides. He’s going to be a senior and he’s one of them that’s going to have to step up for us on both sides of the football.”

Everyone made it through the scrimmage healthy, though two linemen sat out for precautionary reasons, resting nagging injuries.

On the White team’s first possession, Wells took a read handoff from Brandon Hickingbotham on a play designed to go left. That way was clogged, so Wells reversed field and outran the Red defense for the score.

On the ensuing possession, White defender Nate Robbins intercepted a Rowdy Weathers pass at the goal line after Weathers was forced to scramble to his right and fired just before being run out of bounds.

On White’s second possession, Ellis took a handoff on second and 10 up the middle, breaking one tackle and scoring to put the White team up two possessions.

The Red team scored on its third possession. A dropped snap on first down pushed them back before Quinlan Britt caught a screen pass for a 3-yard gain. The White defense jumped off-sides to set up third and goal from the 6. Weathers then hit Harderrious Martin on an in-route for the score.

The White team got six yards on first down of its next possession, but the Red defense pushed them back three yards with a sack on second down. Britt dropped a touchdown pass on third down, and Hickingbotham overthrew Wells in the flat on fourth down.

The White defense then sacked Weathers for an 8-yard loss on first down of the next possession, and pressured him again on second down. Only this time, Weathers scrambled backwards before finding running room up the middle and sprinting all the way to the end zone for the score.

“It was good to see him make a play after his mistake,” coach Hickingbotham said. “But we’re still in teaching mode, and I’d much rather have seen him take a sack or throw it away than give the ball up like that. If you look at it, that might’ve been the difference in his team winning that scrimmage instead of settling for the tie.”

The game also featured a half-dozen or so players in street clothes who were held out of practice because of lackluster classroom performance. There was one player who wasn’t in that situation that Hickingbotham singled out.

“We’re still changing mindsets around here trying to get guys to be uncommon,” Hickingbotham said. “By that I mean, if all your friends are hanging out and blowing off homework, be the uncommon guy and get that homework done. If everybody around you has no drive or no directions, set some goals and strive to achieve them. A perfect example of that is Devin Patterson. He was in our SIT program the first semester. By semester he had it up to about a 2.0, and by the end of the year he was all As and Bs. He’s getting the job done for himself, and it’s making him a better player and teammate.

“We never want to give up on a kid, but we’re reaching the point where they either have to get eligible or we have to move on.”