Tuesday, October 18, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Titans searching for upset

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville football team comes off their exciting win over Hall still needing at least one more victory for a chance to get into the Class 6A playoffs. The first opportunity comes at home this Friday when league-leading West Memphis visits Jan Crow Stadium.

The Blue Devils are fresh off a 40-38 upset of Jonesboro, a win that created a three-way tie atop the 6A-East that includes West Memphis, Jonesboro and Pine Bluff. The week before, Jonesboro beat Pine Bluff, making all three teams 3-1 in league play with three to go.

West Memphis’ lone loss, however, was 27-20 to Searcy, which could indicate a slightly more interesting matchup this Friday than records might indicate.

Jacksonville (2-7, 1-3) also lost to Searcy, but only by two touchdowns in a game in which the Titans were flagged 21 times for more than 200 yards. Jacksonville also lost its starting quarterback in the first quarter of that game, and had to adjust on the fly by moving safety Harderrious Martin under center.

In the last three games with Martin at quarterback, Titan coach Barry Hickingbotham thinks the offense has improved each outing.

“That’s what I’m most proud of with this bunch,” said Hickingbotham. “They’ve kept working and they’ve improved every week. They fight to the end and you saw that last week as well. We jumped out 20-0 and things started going wrong for us. I took a gamble before halftime and went for it on fourth and 3 from about our own 30-yard line. It didn’t work out and they got an easy score. So now it’s an eight-point game and Hall is getting more and more pumped up the longer it stayed close.”

Jacksonville trailed 30-26 and faced fourth and 9 from the Warrior 30 when it pulled out a huge play for an exciting win.

Martin had two options, a seam route to the end zone, or a hook at the first-down marker. Receiver Jonathan Hall got behind the defense and made an outstretched catch of a perfect throw from Martin for the game-winning touchdown.

“I was happy for Jonathan Hall because that’s a kid that works hard,” Hickingbotham said. “For him, a senior, to make a catch like that on his last homecoming, that’s a memory he’ll have for a lifetime.”

Besides both teams losing to Searcy, West Memphis (5-2, 3-1) has fared considerably better than Jacksonville against the other two common opponents. Jacksonville lost 57-21 to Jonesboro while West Memphis beat Hall 51-0.

Hickingbotham still believes his squad has a chance to pull off an upset on Friday.

“Hopefully they’ll overlook us with Pine Bluff on the horizon for them,” Hickingbotham said. “They know if they can beat Pine Bluff they can win a conference championship. We’re excited for the opportunity to be in the position we’re in. I think we’re in a good spot as far as catching them at a good time. Hopefully that will play in our favor. If we can hang around with them, anything can happen in that fourth quarter.”

West Memphis has 98 players on its roster, but only brings 45-50 to away games, so depth will be a big advantage for the Blue Devils. Hickingbotham is hoping that cooler weather will be a small help to all his players that play on both sides of the football.

“We’re thinking that will help us some,” Hickingbotham said. “It’s a still a huge disadvantage when the other team is leaving home more players than we have on our roster. We’re going to try to do some things to lessen the snaps we have to play, see if we can put ourselves in a position to pull one out.”