Wednesday, October 05, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Bombers present challenge for Titans

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Titans lost by a wide margin last Friday to highly-ranked Jones-boro, but there were a lot of positives for the team to take with them into this Friday’s road trip to Mountain Home.

Jacksonville lost 57-21 to a Jonesboro team that is averaging more than 59 points per game, but the Hurricane offense wasn’t as dominant as the score would indicate. Jacksonville gave up three non-offensive touchdowns, and stopped Jonesboro on downs on several occasions.

Meanwhile, the Jacksonville offense had a nice outing statistically, piling up 458 yards of offense, and cut lost yardage due to penalties down dramatically from a week earlier.

The drawbacks were twofold. The Titans, who had fumbled just once all season, fumbled several times last week, and special teams gave up two touchdowns.

Two of the fumbles Jacksonville lost last Friday were at the end of big gains, and though there were only three penalties, two negated third-down conversions.

“It was inexperience rearing its head was the main thing,” said Jacksonville coach Barry Hickingbotham. “We lost our starting quarterback against Searcy and have had to move some people around. We didn’t have much experience to begin with, now we’re playing people in positions they’re not as used to playing.

“But what I liked, what I was most proud of, was even at the end when things had gotten away from us, it never felt like my kids quit trying. They were playing hard at the end, trying to get another score. I’m seeing improvement every week. You give me kids that are willing to keep working, I’ll go to battle with that group every day.”

Harderrious Martin moved from safety to quarterback after Rowdy Weathers went down against Searcy. He still played a few snaps on defense, but he led the Titans’ best offensive effort nicely.

“I think it was important for him to have a little success early,” Hickingbotham said. “He’d rather play defense, but he’s being a team player and stepping up for us. We’ve had to move people into his position at safety, which means we’re trying some new guys at receiver.

“Rodney Middleton is a guy that works hard in practice and earned a shot. He made a couple of big plays for us. Dillon Burge is another one. He had the big catch and scored a touchdown. He got so excited I thought he almost tackled himself before he got to the end zone. But it’s exciting to see some of these new guys step up.”

Mountain Home also had its best night offensively against Jonesboro, and like Jacksonville, lost big anyway. The Bombers fell 63-38 to Jonesboro, and are 0-5 as they prepare to host the Titans.

Both teams are 0-2 in conference play, and the game could have major implications on the race for the 6A playoffs. Mountain Home’s two league losses are to the two top teams in the 6A-East. After falling to Jonesboro in week four, the Bomber offense was shut down in a 36-0 loss to Pine Bluff last week.

Mountain Home runs mostly out of the Wishbone, but will show other formations like the Flexbone.

They racked up more than 600 yards rushing against Jonesboro, including two rushers over 170 yards. Isaac McCay carried 20 times for 263 yards while Junior Wililams had 14 totes for 179.

“They’re a downhill team,” Hickingbotham said. “They want to put you on your heels. They don’t have a win to show for it yet, but they’re much-improved. Nobody except Pine Bluff has just lined up and whipped them. They’ve been in a lot of close games. It’s a long bus ride up there and that’s just going to add to the challenge.

“I was proud to see us eliminate a lot of the penalties. We have to get back to protecting the ball like we had been. This is a big one.”