Saturday, October 31, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Devils dominate Mills

Leader sportswriter

Jacksonville got its second 5A-Central Conference win of the season in a big way Friday night in Little Rock, as the Red Devils dominated Mills University Studies from the start, beating the Comets 46-7.

Last night’s win was the first for the Red Devils since beating J.A. Fair on Sept. 25. Jacksonville (2-6, 2-3) and Mills (1-7, 0-5) entered Friday’s conference game having already been eliminated from playoff contention, but finishing the season on a high note is something the JHS coaches and players are focusing on.

“It’s been a long process,” said Jacksonville coach Barry Hickingbotham. “A lot of kids playing hard. I don’t want to say it’s been bad luck, but we just haven’t had any good things happen to us. We really needed this tonight and I’m happy for the kids and the coaches – happy for our seniors.”

Jacksonville’s offense played the whole game in the Double Wing formation, switching from their usual Spread attack to the more run-oriented and misdirection-style offense. It was highly effective.

“We’re beat up so bad, injury-wise,” Hickingbotham said. “Both quarterbacks are out. We just tried to find something that kind of fit our kids and personnel. We’ve lost two running backs. We’ve lost linemen. We had two weeks (bye week last week) and it gave us a chance to work on a few things.

“Coach (Jim) Stanley did a great job of getting them ready. The kids bought in and that’s the thing.”

The Red Devils turned it over on a fumbled snap deep into Mills territory on the first offensive series of the game, but the Red Devil defense recovered a Comet fumble on Mills’ first series.

Jacksonville’s offense took over at the Comets’ 21, and running back Danny Smith found the end zone on the third play of that drive. Smith took a double handoff in for the score from 5 yards out, which gave the Red Devils a 6-0 lead with 8:16 left in the first quarter.

The Devil defense forced another turnover on Mills’ next possession, and the JHS offense took over at the Comet 37. Three plays later, quarterback HarDerrious Martin connected with the big man, Bradley Brown, who normally plays tackle but lined up at tight end Friday, for a 23-yard touchdown pass with 6:26 to go in the opening quarter.

The PAT was no good, leaving it 12-0 Jacksonville. The Red Devil defense covered their third Mills fumble of the game on the Comets’ next offensive series, and the Jacksonville offense capitalized.

Starting from their own 20, the Red Devils capped an 8-play drive with an 8-yard scoring run by Smith with 32 seconds left in the first quarter. The extra point was good, and that pushed Jacksonville’s lead to 19-0.

Jacksonville scored on its final three drives of the half. With 6:47 to play in the half, Avery Wells capped a six-play drive with a 3-yard touchdown run, and the PAT made it 26-0 Devils.

On Jacksonville’s next possession, the Red Devils scored on the first play. It was a 49-yard run by Smith on a double handoff with 5:25 left until halftime, and Smith added his fourth and final touchdown of the night on another double handoff.

On that score, Martin took the snap and handed to Deboious Cobbs who then handed to Smith who ran for the 3-yard score. The extra point made it 39-0 with 2:11 left in the half.

Mills’ offense ended the half with what looked to be a promising drive, but the Jacksonville defense held, and on fourth down, Comet quarterback James Harris was intercepted by Nate Robbins with 10 seconds remaining, which put an end to the scoring threat.

Leading 39-0 at halftime, the clock ran continuously throughout the second half because of the 35-point sportsmanship rule. Mills scored its lone touchdown of the night at the end of the third quarter on a 5-yard run by Brandon Bunting.

The extra point made it 39-7. The Red Devils’ last score came on a Dameion Smith punt return.

Dameion Smith wasn’t even the one set to receive the punt, but while getting in position to block on the return, he recognized the punt was shallow and ran up and caught it, then dashed to the visitors’ sideline, where he got a couple of key blocks that allowed him to score with 4:44 to play.

The extra point set the final margin.

Jacksonville finished the game with 369 yards of offense. Mills had 236 yards total. Danny Smith, in his first game since week one, led the way with 10 carries for 95 yards and four touchdowns. Robbie Knowlin had six carries for 91 yards and Martin had five carries for 79 yards. Martin was also 1-1 passing for 23 yards and a touchdown.

Jacksonville will try and play the spoiler role in the regular-season finale next Thursday night at Jan Crow Stadium. The Red Devils host McClellan (6-2, 4-1), who is currently the No. 2 playoff seed out of the 5A-Central. Kickoff next Thursday is at 7 p.m.