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Marion welcomes El Dorado to open league play

Photo Credit: Chuck Livingston

MARION WELCOMES EL DORADO TO OPEN LEAGUE PLAY

In the grand scheme of things, two weeks is not a terribly long time. But in the hectic world of high school football, it can be an eternity. Just ask second-year Marion coach Lance Clark, who's had to endure 12 days of agony since his Patriots opened their 2022 season with a sloppy 21-10 defeat at Wynne. In the season opener, Marion (0-1 overall) committed four turnovers and lost the ball four more times on downs. Three of those turnovers on downs occurred in Wynne territory. “We realized after the game that we need to get back to our core identity, which we've done a good job of the past few days,” explained Clark. “Look, the team is in a good place. What we need right now is for some leadership to emerge, and that could be an ongoing thing all fall. A part of being a leader is stepping up and getting people to follow them. That's the toughest part of being a leader is being someone people want to follow. Once we square that, we can get where we need to go.” Marion likely plays this season as one of the younger teams in Class 6A. The Pats started just one senior on offense at Wynne, but four sophomores. The Marion defense is a more veteran unit with six senior starters and five juniors, but several 10th-graders are the next man up in many spots. The Pats moved the ball well between the 20s at Wynne, outgaining the Yellowjackets 318-247, but turnovers inside the red zone spelled doom for the visiting Pats. Marion kicks off the most intriguing home football schedule in school history Friday night when defending Class 6A state champion El Dorado makes the 502-mile round-trip journey to face the Pats at Premier Bank Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m., and the conference opener will be broadcast live on MarionPatriots.com and on the Marion Patriots Activities Network mobile app. Marion and El Dorado are two of the 10 6A East teams for the next two seasons, marking the state's largest football conference. A 10-team superconference calls for a nine-game league schedule, meaning Marion will play nine league games over the season's last nine weeks. “It used to be that you'd play three games, see where you stood, and then start a new season,” said Clark. “Now, you get one game before an all-new season, and to top it off, it's the most important nine games of the year. So it'll be different, but we are all excited for the challenge.” El Dorado is 7-0 all-time against Marion, including playoff conquests in 2008, 2011, 2016, and in the 2021 semifinals. The Wildcats are 7-0 all-time against the Pats. “You shouldn't need any more incentive to be ready to play than a team other than the defending state champs coming to town,” said Clark. “A team we have never beaten, a team that beat you twice last year and put you out of the playoffs. It's the home opener, it's the conference opener. It's a game that has a ton of juice and energy behind it.” While the Wildcats stormed their way to last season's top prize, the 2022 'Cats are off to an uneven start, much like Marion. Class 5A Camden Fairview routed El Dorado last week 39-21 as El Dorado committed a pair of turnovers and twice failed to recover an onside kick. Making matters worse, the Wildcats twice failed to score inside the Fairview red zone. Three El Dorado all-state performers graduated in May, including Lamar signee Sharmon Rester, Southern Arkansas signee Jackie Washington, and university of Arkansas preferred walk-on Kamron Bibby, but all-conference tailback Shadarious Plummer returns after rushing for 1,290 yards and 23 touchdowns a season ago. Senior two-time all-state receiver DeAndra Burns, Jr., an Arkansas State commit, makes plays on the outside after amassing 859 yards receiving and 10 TDs last year. “They have two matchup issues on the outside who really test you on every play,” explained the coach. “Burns is a known commodity, and (T.J.) Dunn has played well early this year. The Plummer kid is a special 'back, one of the better ones in the state. He's tough to bring down, and he's stronger than you think.” The Wildcat defense returns only three starters from a season ago, but senior noseguard Takoi Steward is “a tremendous player,” said Clark. “He wrecks everything. He played end for them last year, but he moved inside this year and he's playing even better.” Senior linebacker Danquez Shelton garnered all-conference honors a season ago when he racked up 102 tackles, 11 for losses, with eight sacks. Senior cornerback Bryson Boulden likely starts his third season at cornerback. “We know how physical that unit will be on defense,” explained Clark. “Whatever mistakes or miscues they made a week ago, they will get fixed this week. Those guys coach too, and their players improve too. We know it'll be a dog fight.” POLL POSITION Marion dropped to No. 9 in this week's Hootens.com Class 6A state rankings following the Wynne loss. El Dorado remained at No. 7 in the rankings despite its loss to Camden Fairview. OFFENSIVE LINE SHUFFLE Junior Carter Benton, Marion's only returning starter on the offensive line, shifted last week from right tackle to center in time for the El Dorado game. Benton's move bumps sophomore Charlie Cantrell from center to guard. YOUTH NIGHT The El Dorado game marks Youth Night at Premier Bank Stadium, meaning that any Marion youth football player and their parents get into the game for free so long as they wear their jersey to the game. Players will meet before 6:00 p.m. At the Marion Performing Arts Center, where snacks will be served. At approximately 6:00, players will walk to Premier Bank Stadium and join varsity players on the field as they warm up. Just before kickoff, the youth football players will line the tunnel on the field as the team runs out. RARE SIGHT Marion and El Dorado have played seven times since 2008, but Friday's game will be just the third Wildcat appearance at Premier Bank Stadium. The Union County outfit came to town for a 2016 first-round playoff game and left with a 38-3 victory. El Dorado blew into town on October 16, 2020, and earned a 45-34 conference win. WEEK 2 CLASS 6A SCHEDULE All games kickoff at 7 p.m. 6A East El Dorado at Marion LR Catholic at Greene County Tech Sylvan Hills at Benton West Memphis at Jacksonville Sheridan at Searcy 6A West Siloam Springs at Greenbrier Mountain Home at Greenwood LR Christian at Lake Hamilton Pulaski Academy at Russellville Van Buren has a bye.

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