Saturday, September 02, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Jacksonville wins opener

Leader sports editor

A nose-to-the-grindstone running game and a late defensive personnel adjustment helped the Jacksonville Titans to a 25-21 season-opening victory over Mills on Friday in Little Rock. Jacksonville held a 19-7 lead at halftime, but got burned continually with the deep ball as the Comets pulled to within 19-13 and 25-21 in the second half.

So Titan coaches decided to put starting quarterback and safety Harderrious Martin at corner on defense, and the strategy worked. Mills tried to go deep a few more times, but one was picked off by Tre Newson, one batted down by Martin, and the last gasp was picked off by Martin with 4:04 left in the game.

“He’s just a player, man,” Jacksonville coach Barry Hickingbotham said. “He’s just a guy that needs to be around the ball. We had some mistakes at corner that were costing us. So we stuck him in there. If they had been killing us up the gut, we’d probably put him at tackle.”

It didn’t take long for Martin to make his mark offensively, either. The Titans got the ball first, but most of a good gain on the first play was erased by a penalty on the second. Martin then kept on the read option and went 56 yards for the score just one minute into the game. The extra point missed, leaving the score 6-0.

The defense then held after giving up one first down, and the offense came through again. This time Jacksonville grinded out 29 yards on six plays to the 49. Martin then went to the air, where Xavier Scott made the catch at the 15, broke a tackle and scored on the 51-yard play. Hunter Fletcher’s extra point was good, giving Jacksonville a 13-0 lead with 4:46 left in the first quarter.

Mills then hit its first long pass. Quarterback Taydrean Ford found Pernell Bobo 46 yards downfield for a first down at the 16. Three plays later, Ford kept from 10 yards out and scored. The extra point made it 13-7.

After two fruitless possessions by each team, Jacksonville got good field position after a long punt return by Shavarrious Curley set the Titans up at the Comet 40. The return actually went all the way to the 22, but an illegal block erased the final 18 yards.

Mills gave most of that back two plays later when an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was added to a 6-yard reception by Deboious Cobbs, putting the ball on the Mills 20. Martin kept again on the next play, and again scored. Another missed PAT left it 19-7 going into the intermission.

Mills struck big right away in the second half after flubbing the kickoff and starting at its own 3-yard line. Plays of 52 and 43 yards got the Comets to the other 3-yard line in just two plays. Another two plays and the score was 19-13 with 10:42 left in the third quarter.

Curley went in at quarterback for Jacksonville on the next drive and did well. He salvaged a busted play by scooping up a low snap and turned a negative play into a gain of zero.

He then hit Cobbs over the middle for a long pass play. A personal foul added 15 more, and Jacksonville had first and goal at the 2. But running back Shawn Ellis was hit at the line of scrimmage on the next play, and was stripped of the ball as he fought for extra yardage. Mills covered at the 3, and drove into Jacksonville territory before Tre Newson got his interception. He returned it 25 yards to the Mills 32.

From there, Jacksonville fed Ellis six-straight times to the 3-yard line. Curley took it in from there for a 25-13 lead with 11:55 left in the fourth quarter.

Mills’ final touchdown drive started with 8:42 left after a bad punt set the Comets up at the Jacksonville 27-yard line. After an incomplete pass, Ford hit Broderick Lacy for the score. Bobo added the two-point conversion to make it 25-21.

The Comets forced a three-and-out on Jacksonville’s next possession, and another bad punt gave Mills the ball at the Titan 44. Four plays got them to the 30, but a holding penalty negated a 9-yard gain on third down that would’ve been a first down. Mills had another receiver open in the back of the end zone, but the pass was a wobbly floater and went out of bounds.

Martin then came through with his interception on fourth down, giving Jacksonville the ball at the 38 with 4:04 to go.

From there, it was another steady dose of Ellis up the middle to run out the clock.

Jacksonville finished with 338 total yards and Mills had 373. Ellis was the workhorse. He carried 26 times for 130 yards. Martin had five carries for 83 yards and two touchdowns. Cobbs had three receptions for 41 yards, Scott one for 51 and a touchdown.

The Titans will host Catholic High at Jan Crow Stadium next Friday. The Rockets pummeled Sylvan Hills 44-7 last night at War Memorial Stadium.