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Decatur High coach Jere Adcock and sophomore quarterback Ben Neill discuss passing techniques. The Red Raiders (10-1) host Benjamin Russell (9-2) at Ogle Stadium on Friday night in the second round of the Class 5A state playoffs. Kickoff is 7 p.m.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
Decatur High coach Jere Adcock and sophomore quarterback Ben Neill discuss passing techniques. The Red Raiders (10-1) host Benjamin Russell (9-2) at Ogle Stadium on Friday night in the second round of the Class 5A state playoffs. Kickoff is 7 p.m.

Passing the test
Beefing up aerial attack benefits Red Raiders in march to 10 wins

By Brooke Milam ∑ 340-2460

In a 12-minute whirlwind of plays at a recent practice, four Decatur High quarterbacks threw passes to nearly a dozen receivers.

With each quarterback running about six plays a minute, they're throwing about 24 balls a minute and about 288 passes before the practice session is over.

It is no secret that Decatur values its passing game.

Red Raiders head coach Jere Adcock said he believes in the philosophy of "working twice as hard on the passing game," and his players have seen the benefits of that this season.

"If you can throw the football in high school, you present a dimension that puts a lot of pressure on opposing defenses and forces opponents into some tough situations," Adcock said. "I've been real pleased with our quarterbacks this year and even more maybe with the receivers."

As Decatur (10-1) prepares to host Benjamin Russell (9-2) in the second round of the Class 5A state playoffs Friday, Adcock said the passing game has been a key ingredient to the Red Raiders' success this year.

Sophomore quarterback Ben Neill has completed 103 of 169 passes for Decatur for 1,411 yards and 20 touchdowns.

Neill has thrown four interceptions, while having a 62 percent completion rate. Also, he isn't locking onto two or three favorite receivers — 11 Red Raiders have caught passes, and eight have caught touchdown passes.

"You know whoever you throw it to, they're going to catch it, and they're going to make plays," Neill said. "With so many good receivers, it makes it easier. You don't have to worry about anybody complaining, and you don't have to look to just one guy."

Depth at receiver and an accurate quarterback have sharpened the Red Raiders' offense into a threat that has kept opponents guessing.

The Red Raiders are averaging 29.3 points a game with the help of a reliable passing game.

"In today's time, I think throwing the football well also gives you an opportunity to run the ball better," Adcock said.

Junior tailback Chris Coffey has benefited, rushing for 1,085 yards and eight touchdowns this season.

It all has combined to give Decatur its most productive offense since 2000 when the Red Raiders went 10-2.

That offense, led by all-state quarterback Cole Barthel, who is now playing for Arkansas Tech, rolled up 4,400 yards in 12 games.

Decatur has gained 3,600 yards this season in 11 games with nearly half coming from its passing game.

Adcock said that after assessing the personnel in the off-season, the Red Raiders planned on using a variety of receivers this year.

"We felt like our quarterback situation was good, and when we went into the spring, we felt like we had a lot of guys that could catch the ball, that run good routes and were very unselfish," Adcock said.

This has given receivers coach Byron Graham a large group to oversee and has allowed offensive coordinator Kenny Morson plenty of options.

Senior Justin Bishop returned as Decatur's leading receiver from last season and has paced the Red Raiders again this year. He had 28 catches for 507 yards and five touchdowns.

"We've got a bunch of guys to contribute, so opposing defenses can't really key in on one guy because everybody can catch the ball," Bishop said.

Junior Cory Dodson has caught a team-high eight touchdown passes off 20 receptions for 327 yards.

"We knew we had depth all along," Dodson said.

Coffey has 17 catches for 191 yards and a score, and junior tight end Brooks Johnson has 14 receptions for 142 yards and four touchdowns.

Senior Riley Adcock and junior fullback David Martin each have 10 catches for 92 and 78 yards, respectively, and Martin has caught two touchdowns.

Juniors Pete Brown and Levi Cook and freshman Ryan Watson each have a touchdown catch this season.

In his first year as a full-time starter, Neill said he has benefited from excellent pass protection from Decatur's offensive line.

"It's been solid all year," Neill said. "It's not been a problem at all. Nothing to worry about."

And with plenty of time to throw, Neill has produced.

Players name wins over J.O. Johnson, Russellville and Athens as times the passing game has come through this season.

Against J.O. Johnson on Sept. 12, Decatur won 30-20 on the strength of a touchdown catch by Cook and screen pass to Coffey for a touchdown.

In a 24-23 overtime win over Russellville on Oct. 12, Dodson caught a 7-yard touchdown pass from Neill in the extra period to set up Michael Schuster's game-winning extra point.

Decatur's other two touchdowns that night came on pass plays, with Martin and Bishop catching one each.

Against Athens on Sept. 21, Decatur took a 35-7 win as Neill passed for a season-high 251 yards and two touchdowns.

With those kinds of results, it is not hard for the Red Raiders to find motivation in some intense passing practice sessions — even late in season.

Neill will return next year, as will four of the Red Raiders' top six receivers. Some new additions are waiting for their chance to join Decatur's air attack, too.

"We've got some young kids not getting playing time right now that I feel real good about for next year," Adcock said. "We're graduating some real good ones, but we've also got some good ones that I think will step right in."

Red Raiders in 2nd round

Who: Benjamin Russell (9-2) at Decatur (10-1).

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Where: Ogle Stadium.

What: Second round of Class 5A state playoffs. A loss ends the loserís season.

Brooke Milam

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