Wednesday, September 27, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Titans focus on seizing moment

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Titans are coming off a good outing but a disappointing loss as they prepare to hit the road to take on the Jonesboro Hurricanes at 7 p.m. Friday.

Some would consider the Titans’ 35-20 loss to Searcy a moral victory. Prognosticators had said the Lions would be able to name their score against an overmatched Jacksonville team. It didn’t work out that way. The 15-point final margin was Searcy’s biggest lead of the game, and didn’t come until the last touchdown after Jacksonville had cut it 28-20 early in the fourth.

Jacksonville kept Searcy out of the end zone the entire first quarter, the first time any team had accomplished such a feat against a Lion team that was averaging 54 points per game entering the contest.

The Titans also held Division I quarterback prospect Mason Schucker to a season low of 191 yards passing. He was averaging more than 400 yards per game.

But Jacksonville wanted a victory, and didn’t take much to the moral-victory mantra.

“They were disappointed,” said Jacksonville coach Barry Hickingbotham about his players. “I think they were proud of their effort, and they should’ve been. They left it all out there. But they also left knowing they had some opportunities out there where it could really have been a different outcome. And that’s me included.

“I made some mistakes with the timeouts. We dropped two touchdown passes. We just have to finish. So I think it’s a situation where they gave each other a hand, said good effort, good job, but the job is not done.”

It doesn’t get any easier this week. Jonesboro is 3-1 with a victory over a team that beat Jacksonville. The Canes beat Catholic High 28-26 in Week 3. Catholic beat Jacksonville 34-17 in Week 2. Jonesboro’s only loss is to 7A Conway.

Jonesboro rolled Jacksonville 57-21 last season at Jan Crow Stadium. That team featured two major-college prospects at wide receiver. This team doesn’t have that kind of talent out wide, but there are some playmakers, and the defense is better, according to Hickingbotham.

“They have a running back like Searcy has, except I think this guy (junior Daniel Johnson) is a little thicker,” Hickingbotham said. “I don’t think they have the explosiveness they had last year at receiver, but they have a bunch of guys catching the ball. You’re going to have to account for everybody because anybody could get it. And they’re running a two-headed monster at you at quarterback. So they give you a lot to have to prepare for.”

Seniors Tyson Williams and A.J. Aycock are sharing time at quarterback for Jonesboro, but it’s not a situation where one is primarily a passer and the other a runner. Either could run any play. In last week’s 42-7 win over Mountain Home, Williams attempted six passes and Aycock threw 10, while Williams carried five times and Aycock six. Both played limited duty because the mercy rule was invoked early in the third quarter and the starters took a seat. But ratios were similar in the close game with Catholic.

Williams competed 7 of 14 pass attempts for 113 yards, and carried four times for 14 yards. Aycock completed 10 of 18 attempts for 112 yards, and also had four carries for 4 yards.

Johnson isn’t the only capable running back for Jonesboro either. He leads the team in average, but senior Ji’marcus Bibbs has two 100-yard games also. Against Batesville, Johnson carried 19 times for 210 yards, while Bibbs had 13 carries for 152.

Johnson and Bibbs both went over the 100-yard mark against Catholic as well, with Bibbs leading the way. The senior had 21 carries for 179 yards, while Johnson 16 for 100.

The Canes have talent on defense as well, especially up front. Jacksonville’s offense showed drastic improvement from the Sylvan Hills game, where it had 92 total yards and three points, to Searcy, but the Lions didn’t have the line that Jonesboro has.

“They have a defensive end that’s about 6-foot-6, 270 pounds and he’s an animal,” Hickingbotham said. “They have a tackle about 6-1, 6-2, 300 pounds that ate Catholic alive. That’s going to be a big test for us because we’re always in that numbers game.

“We’re at a disadvantage each and every week in 6A with our numbers. So we have to rotate a lot of guys and work hard to keep people fresh. We’re going to focus a lot on conditioning this week because I think that played a role in wearing down last week.

“We’re trying to get in there and win one of these we’re not supposed to win. We gave ourselves that chance last week. We want to have a chance to win in the fourth quarter and we gave ourselves that, we just didn’t finish. We going up there and we’re going to try to do better and get one this week.”