Monday, August 31, 2015

SPORTS >> Flags stop offense in Red Devils’ scrimmage

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville football team made several good plays in its preseason scrimmage game against Mena on Monday, but also made several mistakes that will have to be corrected in order to have a successful season.

The key statistic of the game was numerous penalties that totaled almost 200 yards against the Red Devils. The format of the scrimmage featured a first half of controlled situations where each team traded drives that started on the other team’s end of the field. Offenses were allowed to take a little longer than the normal 25-second play clock to get a snap off.

The second half of the scrimmage featured about 17-minutes, or about a quarter and a half, of live action football. Though score wasn’t kept, all the scores added together in both halves of the event gave Mena a 24-21 advantage at the end.

Jacksonville got the ball first and things went badly right out of the gate. All three of the first three plays went backwards or for no gain, setting up a fourth and 12 from the Mena 42. Brandon Hickingbotham then connected with receiver Stevie Eskridge over the middle for a 14-yard gain and Jacksonville was on the move.

A strong run by senior Malcolm Crudup set the Red Devils up with first and goal at the 6, and sophomore Danny Smith barreled in from there. Tyler Hooper made the extra point for Jacksonville.

Mena also converted a fourth down on its first drive, though a much shorter one than Jacksonville faced. Quarterback Ryan Ozanich did most of the work for the Bearcats. Whether on a called option read or a designed pass play, Ozanich tucked and ran for most of Mena’s yardage.

The Bearcats, the 2014 Class 4A runners-up, also scored on a short run to end their first drive. The extra point failed for Mena, as did every other one the Bearcats attempted.

That was Mena’s only score of the first half of the competition. Mena managed just one first down on its next two possessions combined, as Jacksonville’s defense enjoyed its strongest segment of the scrimmage.

Jacksonville scored on its second possession, but not its third. The second score was also a short run by Smith.

Jacksonville’s third possession is when the penalties began to mount, and that carried over into the timed portion of the scrimmage.

Jacksonville was on the cusp of another touchdown after having reached the 8-yard line on first down. But three penalties and a sack backed them up almost to midfield before the drive ended.

Jacksonville scored once an added the extra point in three possessions of game-like action. Mena scored on all three drives, but failed every extra point to win the timed portion 18-7.
Jacksonville coach Barry Hickingbotham was not pleased with all the penalties, but was glad to have the practice game in order to identify potential weak spots that have to be addressed.

“It’s a great teaching tool for us,” said Hickingbotham. “That’s the good thing about it. We haven’t had one of these in a while. It gives a chance to go to the film room and point things out and get things corrected before it all starts to count.

“The penalties have to stop. You just can’t win with that many penalties. That was the most disappointing thing.”

There were some tangible things to be pleased with as well, and they weren’t lost on the head Red Devil.

“I thought the biggest positive out of the game was how our running backs ran the  football,” Hickingbotham said. “I think we’re going to have some good depth there without any dropoff no matter who we put back there. I thought

“Defensively, I thought the secondary was the strong point. They weren’t able to do much in the passing game because our coverage was pretty good. And I thought Stevie Eskridge was our most consistent receiver out there. Overall we didn’t do a very good job of catching the ball, but Stevie was a reliable guy for us.”

Jacksonville opens the regular season against last year’s Class 6A runner-up Benton. Kickoff at Jan Crow Stadium is scheduled for 7 p.m.