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Pats top 'Cats in league-opening thriller

Photo Credit: Londa Hamrick

PATS TOP 'CATS IN LEAGUE-OPENING THRILLER

Marion's 27-23 victory on Friday night at Premier Bank over El Dorado was significant for many reasons. For starters, it was the Pats' first conquest over the Wildcats in school history, after losing the first seven meetings. Second, a variety of Patriots emerged to help Marion to victory. Sophomore tailback Jalen Smith ran 26 times for 148 yards and a touchdown. Junior quarterback Ashton Gray delivered a pair of clutch plays in the fourth quarter to will the Pats to victory. Sophomore receiver Mitrell Lewis caught his first varsity TD pass, while Lewis' classmate Cameron Garrett came up with a big catch and run in the fourth quarter to extend the eventual game-winning drive. Senior all-conference wideout Donnie Cheers flipped to defense to take away two-time El Dorado all-state receiver and Arkansas State commit DeAndra Burns, Jr. and promptly intercepted a pair of passes. Defensive lineman Garrett Dickerson recorded a pair of sacks and recovered a fumble. Junior linebacker Dewayne Williams intercepted a pass to thwart an El Dorado drive. And when cornerback JaKobe Smith broke up a pass intended for T.J. Dunn in the south end zone at Premier Bank Stadium on the game's final play, a memorable Marion (1-1 overall, 1-0 6A East) victory ended with pandemonium in front of a big home crowd as fireworks erupted into the evening sky. "This is a massive win for the program, and for our kids," said second-year Marion coach Lance Clark. "We were not proud of how we played last week (21-10 loss at Wynne), so it's nice that our guys were rewarded tonight." Marion proved resilient in Friday's fourth quarter. Trailing 23-20 entering the final frame, Cheers tallied his second interception of the night on the first snap of the period, setting the Pats up at their own 40-yard line. Following a penalty on first down, and an 11-yard Smith rush, Marion faced third and 14. That's when Gray lofted a picturesque pass to Garrett, who caught it and ran 25 yards to to give Marion a fresh set of downs. On the ensuing play, Gray eluded a pair of El Dorado pass-rushers, sidestepped another, and set sail to the north end zone for an exhilarating 51-yard TD run that pushed the Pats back in front. The Patriot defense took over from there, forcing a punt, a turnover on downs, and barred the Wildcats from the end zone on the game's final drive. El Dorado's final four drives ended in Marion territory, including the last three at the Patriot 48-yard line, the Marion 13, and on the Marion 8. "We lost the Wynne game inside the 10s," said Clark. "We won the game tonight inside the 10s. We didn't do everything just perfect tonight, but we were much better there." El Dorado's last drive began at the Marion 22-yard line following a 27-yard Burns punt return, and the Wildcats gained 15 yards on the first two plays to set up first and goal at the Marion 9-yard line. Following a pair of Thomas Smith (12 caries for 85 yards) rushes that totaled 4 yards, El Dorado did not use its final timeout, opting instead to rush up to the line and run a play on third down. QB Kollin Parker lofted a pass to T.J. Dunn, but Smith rose with the receiver and knocked the ball out of his hands as the clock hit all zeroes, inciting a mass celebration on the turf. Marion marched 63 yards in six plays on the game's first drive, culminating when Gray hit Lewis for a 25-yard scoring strike as Marion led 7-0. El Dorado tied the game with 4:20 left in the first quarter when Parker hit Burns for a 47-yard catch and run touchdown, but a bad snap on the extra point kept Marion ahead 7-6. Marion's response was swift, as Smith carried five times for 37 yards before senior Carter Waldo covered the final 35 yards on a TD run to give the Pats a 14-6 lead that doubled as the tally after the opening quarter. The Pats earned a 20-6 lead when they embarked on a physical, 12-play, 69-yard drive that paid off when Smith ran 6 yards to the end zone. El Dorado worked within 20-13 when Elia hit Dunn down the Marion sideline for a 46-yard TD pass. El Dorado threatened to take the lead to halftime on the final drive of the first half, but Cheers intercepted an Elia pass in the end zone to end the second quarter. The Wildcats dominated the third quarter, scoring a safety on a bad snap to get within 20-15 and taking its only lead of the game on the ensuing eight-play, 67-yard touchdown drive. Parker found Dunn from 3 yards out to establish a 23-20 lead that was the score after three frames. WHAT'S NEXT? Marion hosts 0-2 Jacksonville Friday night at Premier Bank Stadium for homecoming. The presentation of the homecoming court is scheduled for 6:30, while kickoff of the football game will be broadcast live on MarionPatriots.com and on the Marion Patriots Activities Network mobile app. 6A EAST SCORES Marion 27, El Dorado 23 Sheridan 31, Searcy 27 Benton 58, Sylvan Hills 24 West Memphis 46, Jacksonville 8 LR Catholic 38, Greene County Tech 16 6A EAST STANDINGS SCHOOL CONF. RECORD TIEBREAKER POINTS Benton 1-0 13 LR Catholic 1-0 13 West Memphis 1-0 13 MARION* 1-0 4 Sheridan 1-0 4 El Dorado 0-1 Greene County Tech 0-1 Jacksonville 0-1 Searcy 0-1 Sylvan Hills 0-1

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