Tuesday, October 03, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Potential corner turner for Titans

Leader sports editor

It’s homecoming week for Jacksonville, but it’s also a game with major playoff implications in the 6A-East Conference. Coaches always worry about the distractions that come with homecoming, and it’s especially important for the Titans as the Mountain Home Bombers visit Jan Crow Stadium on Friday.

It is, however, a rare chance for the undersized Titans, which, because of an inexplicable ruling by the Arkansas High School Activities Association, plays 6A football even though the school has 5A enrollment numbers, to face a team that doesn’t have a huge depth advantage.

Mountain Home is a legitimate 6A enrollment school, but the football numbers are low, and a comparable number of Bomber players play on both sides of the ball.

“That’s one thing that’s a little bit of a relief,” said Jacksonville coach Barry Hickingbotham. “When you look at them on film, it looks a lot like us. You see guys, a jersey number, on offense. And then you look at their defense and you see some of the same jersey numbers. We’ve had to do that, too, and we’ve had to play a bunch of teams where nobody does that. So in that area we’re not going to be at a big disadvantage this week.”

Just like last year, Jacksonville is 1-4 and Mountain Home is 0-5 coming into the Week 6 matchup. Both teams are again 0-2 in league play. The Bombers, which have 19 seniors and 18 returning starters, pulled off a 34-27 win over the Titans last season, which sparked a strong finish and a playoff berth. After beating Jacksonville for their first win last year, the Bombers lost a tough one to Marion, then finished the regular season with three-straight wins over Little Rock Hall, Searcy and West Memphis.

“They’re going to come in here motivated,” Hickingbotham said. “This game was a key turning point for them last year. I’m sure they’re looking at it like it could be again. Hopefully we can turn the tables and get us a little spark going.”

Jacksonville found a spark in its offense in the first half at Jonesboro last week, but the defense, which had played well up to that point, fell apart. Jacksonville’s offense outscored its season high in the first half, but the defense gave up 55 points in just the first two quarters to Jonesboro. The 55-31 halftime score turned into a 76-31 final.

The lack of production in the second half was largely the result of free substitutions by the JHS coaching staff.

“We moved the ball down the field to start the second half,” Hickingbotham said. “We got down in the red zone, went for it on fourth down and didn’t get it. They went down and scored. It became a case where it just wasn’t going to happen. If we’d have scored there, you know, 55-38 has a different complexion to it than 62-31. We started using a lot of guys at that point and tried to get back home with everybody healthy.”

Mountain Home lost 36-14 to Pine Bluff last week. The Bombers played Jonesboro to open conference play, and lost 42-7. It was the same margin as Jacksonville’s loss to Jonesboro, but two very different types of games that make them difficult to compare.

“They (Jonesboro) ran the ball a lot more on Mountain Home,” Hickingbotham said. “We maybe had a little more speed and were able to do some things to take advantage of how aggressive their front four are.

The Bombers have another new coach, and will run variations of different run-oriented offenses. The team’s main offense is listed as the Flexbone, but they’ll also pull the slot receivers in tighter for a Double-wing look. They also played the entire first half of last week’s game against Pine Bluff in the Dead-T.

Jacksonville quarterback Harderrious Martin’s performance stood out last week, despite the loss. He completed 13 passes for 264 yards and three touchdowns, and carried 12 times for 128 yards and another score.