Hurricane wary of Blue Devils

Jonesboro quarterback Rykar Acebo drops back to pass behind the Hurricane offensive line, including Josh Hyneman (60), during last week’s home victory over Pine Bluff. Jonesboro travels to West Memphis tonight.

JONESBORO — Randy Coleman expects Jonesboro to face a better opponent tonight than West Memphis’ record and recent scores would suggest.

The Blue Devils stagger into week 7 at just 2-4 overall and 1-2 in 6A-East conference play. They were blown out in each of their last two games, Searcy pulling away in the second half of a 38-9 rout and Sylvan Hills dominating the first half in a 35-13 runaway.

But for the Hurricane, beating their longtime rival to the southeast is rarely easy.

“There’s no thought by anybody around here that 2-4 means anything other than that’s what their record is,” said Coleman, Jonesboro’s head coach. “We don’t put much stock in records. We know we have to play better than we’ve been playing, because we anticipate them playing their best game of the year.”

Jonesboro (3-2, 2-0 conference) travels to West Memphis tonight in search of its first victory over the Blue Devils since 2015. Kickoff for the 63rd meeting in the series is set for 7 p.m. at Hamilton-Shultz Field.

West Memphis has won the last four meetings in a series that began in 1955 and has been contested annually since 1966, with the Blue Devils leading 33-27-2.

“I think it’s one of those games where the old saying is you throw out the records, and I really believe that,” Coleman said. “It’s a really, really good football game every year between two teams that don’t like each other, but respect each other.”

Jonesboro opened 6A-East play against the more distant opponents on its schedule. After having their league opener at El Dorado canceled because of the Wildcats’ COVID-19 issues, the Hurricane defeated Sheridan 52-27 and Pine Bluff 34-33.

Both games featured a pass-heavy attack from the Hurricane offense, now led by junior quarterback Rykar Acebo. Acebo was 25-of-38 passing for 333 yards and three touchdowns against Sheridan, then completed 28-of-40 attempts for 420 yards and five touchdowns against Pine Bluff.

“We always will take what the defense gives us. I know that’s cliche, but the last two weeks we haven’t ran the ball very well and so we’ve needed to throw,” Coleman said. “Some of those have been short passes that are really extensions of the run game. We’ll come out and always try to establish the run game early because we really like the play-action pass, but we have a plan in place that if we need to throw it every down, we can do it.”

Acebo has completed 65.4 percent of his passes for 954 yards and 10 touchdowns, with two interceptions. His targets include Will Barre’ (32 catches, 641 yards, seven touchdowns), Connor Clark (34-447-2), Kavon Pointer (19-355-5) and Dawson Wagner (18-252-2).

Coleman said the Blue Devils like to play man-to-man pass coverage under new head coach Robert Hooks, setting up individual battles for Jonesboro’s receivers.

“The possibility of going a few plays in a row with gaining nothing against tight coverage is realistic, but when they play man, you have the chance to hit them with an explosive play,” Coleman said. “We have to do a great job in protection because they’re going to bring more people than we’ve seen so far. We feel like with our four receivers who are playing so well that if Rykar has time, we’ll find somebody open.”

Big plays are Coleman’s concern defensively after watching the Hurricane yield 472 yards last week.

Linebacker Marco Avant leads the Hurricane with 54 tackles. Ryan Cranford is the team leader in sacks with four, while John Paul Pickens and Jack Cheatham have intercepted three passes each. Cheatham had two interceptions against Pine Bluff.

Two of the last four games between Jonesboro and West Memphis were decided as time expired, with the Blue Devils winning 40-38 in 2016 on a last-play touchdown pass and 24-21 last season on a last-play field goal. The Hurricane’s most recent victory in the series was a 42-24 decision in 2015.

“Every year it’s a really close game,” Coleman said. “Unfortunately we’ve been on the losing end of that for a while. We know it’s going to be a four-quarter battle.”