With a bye week between their opening game with Ola on Sept. 4 and their home openers with Lamar County this Friday, Sept. 18, the Jackson Red Devils have been hard at work improving both their physical and mental game plans.

The Red Devils got hit early and often when they visited the Mustangs in Henry County on Sept. 4. Thanks to a pair of fumbles in the first half, Ola jumped out to a 24-7 lead at the half. The bright spot for the Red Devils in the first half was Okemus Grier running back the first kickoff for a 98-yard touchdown. But Ola adjusted to that and kicked short and away from Grier for the rest of the game.

Despite some shining moments in the second half, including back 98 yards, Alex Patrick running for two scores, the big one being an 89-yard touchdown run, and QB Carson Daly hittin Cameron Edwards with a 66-yard bomb for a TD, Jackson could never catch up and lost the opener, 52-28.

Coach Dary Myricks said while his Red Devils showed some fight in the first quarter, the two fumbles early on got them down mentally.

“We fumbled the ball twice within 90 seconds deep into our territory,” Myricks said. “That can happen in the the game of football. But the tell of the game was that we didn’t mentally recover from those fumbles.

“What we try to teach our kids is when bad things happen, we’ve got to make sure that we persevere through it. The two fumbles didn’t cost us the game as much as it led us into a place mentally where we didn’t recover. We didn’t recover from stumbling over ourselves. The first fumble was inside our 15 when it was a 7-7 game, so we ended up giving up 7 points. Then we came back on the kickoff and fumbled again, and they scored again.”

Myricks added that Ola made too many third down conversions and the defense couldn’t get off the field.

“I think they had 12 third down conversions, and that’s way too many,” he said. “We were good the first two downs, and it wasn’t like it was third and short most of the time. It was third and 6, third and 7, one time it was third and 13. When you think about that from a defensive standpoint, if we can just make a play and get off the field, we’ve chopped the lead.

“I think those drives turned into long drives, and then it turned into a conditioning deal, especially for the defensive side of the ball. Time of possession defensively was pretty long. That means offensively they kept the ball for a while. Those seven, eight-play drives tire you out, and that’s when conditioning came into play. From there, it was kind of elementary.

“That’s what happens when you’re a small program and you play a bigger program with more bodies, more kids and bigger kids. But that’s what we look for. That pushes us to hopefully get better. To look at ourselves, coaches and players, and try to fix those things that we need to fix.

“We’ve prided ourselves in the past to be able to line down and play with those bigger teams. For about a quarter or a quarter and a half, we were there. Then we lost a key player with Dennis Foster, and along with the turnovers, just mentally we didn’t recover.

So we’ve really focused on key downs and key situations, making sure we get off the field.”

Foster, a senior receiver and defensive back,ran into another defender in the second quarter and suffered a possible neck injury. An ambulance was called as medical personnel from both teams attended to him. Foster gave a thumbs up to the crowd as he was wheeled off the field on a stretcher. He was transported to Grady Hospital for treatment and released. Myricks said Foster has been cleared and is ready to play.

Jackson’s home opener renews an old rivalry with the Lamar County Trojans. He expects it to be a tough football game.

“Lamar County played Pike County last week and won 31-14,” Myricks said. “They have a lot of speed. I think they have good size, and Coach Long does a good job of coaching over there. So it will be a tough ballgame and a rivalry that hasn’t been played in a while. In these tough times, it can be a thing that can bring the community together. But there is no doubt that we’re going to have to play for four quarters.

“Last year Lamar started 6-0 and then lost their last four and barely missed the playoffs. That has to leave a bad taste in their players’ mouths, and also, a level of confidence knowing that they can play. I think they got a lot of kids back and we’re going to play a pretty good football team come Friday, so we’ve just got to keep working and keep fighting.”

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