Saturday, October 14, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Titans down early, rout Hall

By RAY BENTON Leader sports editor

The first drive of the game was exactly the start Jacksonville coaches feared, but the players overcame an early deficit to cruise to a 38-6 win over Hall High School Friday at Scott Field in Little Rock.

The Titans responded to the bad start with 35 unanswered points before halftime, but only managed three points in the second half to set the final margin.

Jacksonville coach Barry Hickingbotham worried about Hall’s deep ball ability, and on the second play of the game, quarterback Braelon Adams hit receiver Dante Green with a 52-yard touchdown strike for a 6-0 lead just 50 seconds into the game.

Jacksonville had to punt on its first drive, and pinned the Warriors on their own 1-yard line after a sack by Kalon McCoy and Marquez Casey. But on second and 17 from the 1, Adams found Chaidez Sanders with a screen pass. A missed tackle then sprung him for a 45-yard gain to the 46-yard line.

It was all Jacksonville from that point until halftime. The win will likely guarantee the Titans at least a No. 6 seed in the Class 6A playoffs, but the team didn’t act like one that had qualified for the playoffs at the end of the game.

“The goal was to come out and score and run that clock,” said Hickingbotham. “We just don’t have that instinct to, you know, squash the bug, as we used to say. We just haven’t been in that situation enough. The defense responded to the bad start and got a score for us. That was huge. It kind of picked us back up and got us going a little bit. We wanted to play better in the second half, but ultimately we got the job done.”

One factor in Jack-sonville’s sputtering second-half offense was the absence of starting quarterback Harderrious Martin. Hickingbotham decided to rest Martin for the final stretch of the regular season.

“No injury,” Hicking-botham said. “He’s had a few bumps and bruises and it was just a chance to get him some rest. These next three are big down the stretch, so we just wanted to give him a little break while we could.”

On the next play after Hall’s second long pass, Jacksonville linebacker Nate Pool stepped in front of an Adams pass in the flat for a 60-yard interception return for a touchdown. Josh Huber’s extra point gave Jacksonville a 7-6 lead with 7:39 left in the first quarter.

On the second play of the ensuing drive, Shaqke Robinson and Cameron Grant sacked Adams. On the third play, safety Shavarris Curley nearly got his own pick 6. He intercepted a screen pass at midfield and returned it 49 yards before being knocked out of bounds at the 1.

Running back Shawn Ellis stepped it in from there and the extra point made it 14-6 with 6:41 on the clock.

Early in the second quarter, a heavy dose of Ellis got the Titans from their own 40 to the Hall 27. Martin picked up 17 on first down, and then hit Armani Haynes in the end zone for a 21-6 lead with 9:58 left in the first half.

The Jacksonville defense then forced a three-and-out series by Hall, and that set up a one-play drive.

Ellis took it 42 yards up the middle for the score, and Huber’s extra point made it 28-6 with 7:58 to go until halftime.

Hall’s next possession garnered two first downs, but ended with a 3-yard punt. The Titans (3-4, 2-2) started on their own 47 and overcame four penalties to score with 9 seconds left on a 5-yard run by Ellis for a 35-6 lead at intermission.

Hall practically begged Jacksonville to mercy rule them after that. The Warriors fumbled the ensuing kickoff away with 2.5 seconds left. Jacksonville’s offense took the field, but after a timeout, Hickingbotham elected to try a field goal. Huber missed from 42 yards out.

After a 40-minute halftime with no one at Scott Field attending the clock, Jacksonville took the ball to start the second half and went three-and out on three runs by Ellis.

Hall then fumbled the punt, giving the Titans the ball at the Warriors’ 33-yard line. After one first down, Curley, playing quarterback, ran the ball to the 4 to set up third down. But after an injury timeout, the ball was moved all the way back to the 24 with no flag and no signal from the officials why. Curley threw an interception on the next play.

The Warriors started at their own 23, and fumbled it away again on their second snap of the half. Jacksonville took over at the Hall 23, and again failed to do anything and turned it over on downs at the 18.

Finally, with 3:27 left in the extraordinarily long second half, Jacksonville capped a drive from its own 37 to the Hall 7 with a 22-yard field goal by Huber to set the final margin. The Titans got three first downs on Hall penalties to keep that drive alive.

The Titans became the first team this season to fail to score a touchdown in the second half against the Warriors, who are now 1-6 overall and 0-4 in conference play.

Jacksonville finished with exactly 300 total yards, with 230 coming in the first half. Hall finished 219 yards with a 129 of that in the first quarter, and 97 of that on its first four plays of the game.

Ellis led all yardage getters with 154 yards rushing on 27 carries.