Friday, May 01, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Devils’ soccer holds off NP

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Red Devils put themselves in the driver’s seat for second place in the 5A-Central soccer standings with three games left after beating North Pulaski 2-1 Thursday at Jan Crow Stadium. The Red Devils got two first-half goals from Gerald Walton and held on after the Falcons cut the margin to 2-1 with six minutes remaining in the game.

The winner of the game was all but assured a two seed in the state tournament, and a Jacksonville win kept the Red Devils, at least mathematically, in the race for a conference title.

“When we beat PA we were outstanding and we really haven’t felt like we’ve seen that again since then,” said Jacksonville coach Adam Thrash. “Tonight was pretty close, though. We passed tonight and that’s something we’ve been working hard on and trying to get them to do more. We did it tonight and it was beautiful.”

Strangely, both of Jacksonville’s goals came in the first half when North Pulaski played with five defenders in order to try and counter the Red Devils’ speed advantage. After falling behind, the Falcons had to go with more offensive players, and stopped Jacksonville from scoring.

Jacksonville did not try to protect its lead by going defensive in the second half, but still held the Falcons scoreless until the waning moments.

“We didn’t feel like we needed to change anything because things were going so well,” Thrash said. “I still thought we played pretty well in the second half. We created several opportunities and had a lot of shots; we just weren’t able to finish.

“We did a good job of keeping someone between the goal and their scorer the whole game. We made one mistake and let him get behind us and he beat us. But we didn’t let that happen again.”

With six minutes remaining, Illajah Carter took a through ball behind the Jacksonville defense and he scored an easy one-on-one goal to pull the Falcons to within one goal. But Jacksonville held NP to just one more shot on the goal the rest of the game, while getting three themselves.

“We never did go all out just defending,” Thrash said. “We play better when we attack.”

The Red Devils scored shortly after the start of the game on a play that quickly established that it was a rivalry match with a lot on the line.

Jacksonville’s leading scorer, Cortez Jordan, was tackled hard as he worked himself into position for a shot. He passed to Walton as he went down, and Walton finished the play to put the Red Devils in the lead just five minutes into the game.

Twenty-three minutes later, with 12 minutes left in the first half, Jordan took a pass on the right side near the Falcon goal. He attracted three NP defenders and made a nice pass to the middle of the field where Walton was cutting for a wide-open goal and a 2-0 Jacksonville lead.

“He (Walton) has had an ankle injury and hasn’t been able to go full speed for a while,” Thrash said. “He’s finally 100 percent and you could tell he was ready to go tonight. He was all over the place and he played some outstanding soccer.”

Jacksonville is now 8-3 in conference play with three games to get in next week, the final of the regular season.