Tuesday, September 06, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Titans have ‘huge’ test next Friday

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville football team kicked off the era of the Titan with a home victory over Mills University Studies last Friday, and now face a tougher test when it hits the road for the first time to play Catholic High at War Memorial Stadium. The 7A Rockets lost their season opener to Sylvan Hills 48-34, but present a whole different set of challenges for the Titans than they faced against the Comets.

The number one challenge, according to JHS head coach Barry Hickingbotham, is their size.

“It’s probably going to be the biggest line we see all year,” said Hickingbotham. “They have some Goliaths over there. We’re small and we have a bunch of people playing both ways, so it’s going to be a tremendous challenge.”

Jacksonville has faced challenges all offseason and preseason. It started with losing every coach except Hickingbotham and one assistant, and as aresult, having to start over with completely new schemes on offense and defense in June.

In the preseason, the Titans did not look good in their scrimmage game at Mena, so bouncing back and getting a win the first game of the season was important.

“I think it shows the character of this bunch,” Hickingbotham said. “They just came back and kept working to correct the things we did wrong. They went through a lot before the season ever started. I think it showed up again when Mills had the momentum and took the lead from us in the second half. They just went back out there and kept playing.”

Mills scored 14 unanswered points to take a 20-14 lead before Jacksonville came back to go up 27-20. Mills scored with less than two minutes left and went for two, but Jacksonville stuffed 230-pound fullback Brandon Bunting for no gain to preserve the lead.

“That was a big stop,” Hickingbotham said. “We were tired but had a game plan to stop the big guy. We figured he was getting it and we made the play.”

Penalties, which hurt Jacksonville drives at Mena, continued to be a problem last Friday. Missed assignments caused trouble at times as well.

“We still made too many mistakes,” Hickingbotham said. “We missed some blocks and had some key penalties, but those are things we can fix.”

Catholic running back Samy Johnson was the Rockets’ best offensive weapon last week. He had an 80-yard kick return for a score and a 60-yard touchdown run after a broken tackle.

“They’ve got a little speed back there to go with that size,” Hickingbotham said. “So we’re going to have be in the right spots and know what we’re doing. I think we know we have to get in better shape. We have a lot going both ways and this week they’re going to have 300-pounders leaning on them the whole game. So that’s something we have to prepare for the best we can. Hopefully we can have a little success early and give ourselves a chance to win.”