Tuesday, September 27, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Titans hurt as Hurricane comes

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Titan football team suffered a variety of setbacks in last week’s loss to Searcy, but also showed a resolve that could do the team well as the season progresses, especially with the kind of challenge that is coming this Friday when the Titans host Jonesboro.

In last week’s 27-12 loss, the Titans went into the game with one starter on the bench, lost another in the first quarter, and another in the fourth. They were their own worst enemy with more than 200 yards in penalties, and got one phantom holding penalty that negated a huge play that would’ve put the team on the brink of tying the game late in the third quarter.

“You know it was about as ugly a game as you could see, but I’m proud of the fight our kids showed in it,” said Jacksonville coach Barry Hickingbotham. “I think we had 20 penalties, and I’ll take 19 of them. We had guys out of their usual positions just trying to patch together something that worked. So I’ll take 19, but that one. I’ve watched the tape, and it’s not there.”

The penalty at question was a holding call on third and 1 with Searcy leading 20-12, a play Jacksonville gained 18 yards to the Searcy 12-yard line. Instead of first down in the red zone, Jacksonville faced third and 14 from 43, and ultimately turned the ball over on downs.

Searcy put together a drive and scored early in the fourth to set the final margin.

“I don’t want to come down too hard on officials because of being an official myself,” Hickingbotham said. “But that one was pivotal. That, to me, was a swinging point in the game.”

Hickingbotham benched one undisclosed starter for the game for disciplinary reasons. Quarterback Rowdy Weathers left the game in the first quarter for an injury to the same shoulder that benched him last year. He will definitely miss this week’s game at Jonesboro, and likely more.

“He could be finished,” Hickingbotham said. “That’s a blow to us. But I thought we were able to regroup at halftime and make some positive things happen. We’re going to try to build on that.”

Harderrious Martin took over at quarterback after Weathers went down, but he’s also a full time defensive player. In the second half, tailback Shawn Ellis carried some of the load at quarterback.

“HD has to play defense for us, and he was tired,” Hickingbotham said. “I thought Shawn did some good things, and we’re going to try to have them both ready.”

Jonesboro comes to Jacksonville with perhaps the most explosive offense in the state. The Golden Hurricane have scored at least 41 points in every game, and have scored more than 60 in three of four. The defense has been porous, but it hasn’t mattered. Jonesboro is undefeated despite giving up an average of almost 38 points per game. And most the games haven’t even been close.

Jonesboro is averaging 59.7 points per game after beating Batesville 65-41, Conway 41-38, Catholic 69-34 and Mountain Home 63-38.

“They have a receiver who will be the fastest guy we’ve seen this year,” said Hickingbotham. “They have 300-plus at both tackles. They have 270 and 280 at guard. To say it’s going to be a challenge is an understatement. But we’re looking forward to that challenge.”