Tuesday, October 10, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Titans hope for a better start at Hall

By RAY BENTON Leader sports editor

Homecoming week at Jacksonville High School was exciting right up until the buzzer sounded to end the game on Friday. While the Titans didn’t do it in the way they had hoped, they cleared a key hurdle in getting to the Class 6A playoffs with a 14-10 win over Mountain Home.

Another hurdle, and likely the final one, for making the postseason after a two-year absence, is going on the road and defeating Hall High School this Friday at Scott Field in Little Rock.

Jacksonville dominated statistically last week, especially in the early portion of the game. But turnovers played a huge role in the first quarter, and Titans suddenly found themselves behind early in the second quarter.

“You know, we’ve had good ball security all season,” said Jacksonville coach Barry Hickingbotham. “I think we’ve had one fumble all season, and that was the first game. Then we have two on our first two possessions when it looks like we’re about to go score. We force them three and out twice, and then we get a tough call on fourth down about score again. They ruled it incomplete and it looks like a catch on film. They hit a big play and now we’re in a hole.

“It wasn’t how we drew it up, but we got through it with a win. It’s a whole lot better to wish you played better and get the win, than wish you’d played better and be stuck with a loss. We got through it. We left some points out there, missed some opportunities, but you want to make sure you win, and we did that. We mustered it up and pulled through it.”

Hall has another new coach in Kipchoge VanHoose, who had to salvage a team after the late departure of former coach Tim Scarborough. The Warriors won their opener 28-12 over J.A. Fair, but have lost five-straight since then. They only share one common opponent with Jacksonville. The Titans beat Mills 25-21 in the season opener. Hall lost to Mills 28-12 the next week.

The Warriors haven’t been that impressive overall, but some of their strengths align with what have been Jacksonville’s weaknesses, in particular, the deep pass.

“That’s what’s scary,” Hickingbotham said. “They have a quarterback (Nyelin Earl) who can throw the deep ball. Against Marion, it was 14-14 in the first quarter. They’re out there running by people and throwing vertical balls. They had a couple turnovers after that and it got away from them, but they have some guys with some ability.

“We’ve had times where we’ve given things up over the top. We’re going to have to play well on the back end, or our line is going to have to wreak havoc. That’s a risk too because he can pull it down and beat you with his feet.”

The main focus for Jacksonville, however, is finishing. It wasn’t just the first quarter of last week that the Titans squandered scoring opportunities with self-inflicted mistakes.

“If we can go down the field and finish off a few drives, we’ll be in a lot better shape,” Hickingbotham said. “We had that pass out in the flat open all night, and couldn’t connect it. And when we did we got a big gain and them fumbled it away. If we eliminate the drops and get back to the ball security we’ve had most of the season, we can finish these drives. Hopefully we can do that and get them down early. If we do that, we’ll be in good shape.”