Wednesday, October 25, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Titans prepare to host Marion

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Titans are coming off an impressive outing, if not a win, as it prepares to host the pass-happy Marion Patriots this Friday with a better playoff seed on the line for both teams.

Both teams are in the playoffs, and the winner will give itself at least a five seed in the upcoming Class 6A playoffs. The loser is the likely six seed.

Jacksonville lost 24-14 last week to the undefeated and No. 2 ranked West Memphis Blue Devils, and that was after trailing 24-7 at halftime.

“I’m proud of them for the effort they gave,” said Jacksonville coach Barry Hickingbotham. I’m proud of the defense. That’s a team averaging 40 points a game. We held them scoreless in the second half. I think maybe we didn’t start the game believing we could beat that team. If we had started the way we finished, if we have one less fumble, fewer penalties, I’m not saying we beat them, but it’s a different game. We had a couple calls we thought went their way. Hopefully they’re startingto believe what I’ve been telling them; that they’re a good football team, capable of competing on a high level. And hopefully we can carry that same attitude and effort into this one.”

While the second-half defensive performance last week was impressive, Marion presents an entirely different kind of challenge. West Memphis likes the power run game while Marion will throw it 30 to 40, or more, times per game.

Only one other team besides Jacksonville has played WMHS within 10 points this season, and that team was Marion. West Memphis beat the Patriots 37-27. Marion quarterback Jacob Green completed 24 of 34 pass attempts for 343 yards and three touchdowns in that game.

“He ain’t afraid,” Hicking-botham said of Green. “He’ll go for the big one and he’ll fire it into traffic to try to make something happen. It’s going to be a tremendous challenge for our secondary, but at the same time I think there will be opportunities for them. We’re going to have to be ready because they’re going to challenge us.”

Green also has several receivers he’ll target, making defenses unable to focus on one or two primary players. Against West Memphis, six different receivers caught at least three passes. Junior Joyrion Chase led the way with eight receptions for 185 yards and two touchdowns. He has 39 receptions for 670 yards this season, both lead the team.

Last week’s game also featured a change at quarterback for Jacksonville. Senior Harderrious Martin was replaced by junior Shavarris Curley, not because of an issue with Martin’s play, but for more strategic purposes.

“The main thing was to try to get HD (Martin) out in space,” Hickingbotham said. “He’s also a little banged up and we wanted to limit his touches somewhat, keep him from being the target on every play. And I’ll tell you what, Curley did an outstanding job.

“For his first full-time start to be against that monster defense, the guy played great. He’s not as much of a run threat as HD, but he ran the offense. He completed 16 of 21 passes and he moved us down the field. We’re probably going to see a lot more of him this week.”

Martin did take a few snaps last week, and took one of them 70 yards for a touchdown. He’s also one of the best defensive backs on the team, and with Marion’s potent passing attack, he’ll likely see more time on defense.

“He’s a guy we need out there against a team like this,” Hickingbotham said.­