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Marion welcomes Jacksonville for homecoming

Photo Credit: Londa Hamrick

MARION WELCOMES JACKSONVILLE FOR HOMECOMING

Chalk up Marion's dramatic 27-23 come-from-behind victory last Friday night over defending Class 6A state champion El Dorado as further proof of Premier Bank Stadium's mystique. The Patriots are 6-1 on their home turf on the field under second-year coach Lance Clark. Marion later forfeited its 24-21 victory over Wynne last August in Clark's debut. In 2021, Marion earned home victories over Wynne, which wound up winning 10 games, 6A East power and 2019 state champion Searcy, traditional state power Pine Bluff, and 6A East co-champion and No. 1 seed Jonesboro to cap the regular season slate. Marion stayed hot at home in the playoffs, claiming a 42-0 third-quarter lead over favored Russellville en route to a 42-20 vanquishing of the Cyclones Marion's lone home loss came last September when the Pats came up empty on three red zone possessions in a 21-19 defeat to eventual Class 4A state champion Joe T. Robinson. “Winning games at home is always a priority because we know what it's like when we go on the road,” said Clark. “You're traveling, you've got a million things going on. It's just more difficult. In the past year, we've been to El Dorado, Sheridan, Benton, all those places, so we don't want it to be easy for teams to come in here.” Marion gets another chance to defend its home turf this week as 6A East play continues when Jacksonville comes to town for homecoming. Presentation of the homecoming court is scheduled for 6:30 p.m., followed by a 7 p.m. kickoff. The presentation of the court and the football game will be broadcast live on MarionPatriots.com and on the Marion Patriots Activities Network mobile app. A gutsy Marion defense stiffened inside the red zone against El Dorado, preventing the Wildcats from scoring on three red zone possessions, even breaking up a pass in the end zone on the game's final play. The Marion stop troops generated four turnovers, including a pair of interceptions by senior all-conference performer Donnie Cheers, another interception from junior linebacker Dewayne Williams, and a fumble recovery by senior defensive lineman Garrett Dickerson. The Pats rushed for 234 yards against El Dorado, sparked by sophomore tailback Jalen Smith's 23 carries for 138 yards and a score. Quarterback Ashton Gray scored the eventual game-winning TD when he ran 51 yards through the El Dorado defense to the end zone. Now, Marion must battle complacency. The Patriots followed wins with losses following their first three victories last fall and “that's something that great teams just don't do,” said Clark. “I'm not saying we are great right now, but if we want to get where we're going, then we can't ride the roller coaster every week. We need to play well, keep playing well, and continue to play well. Our standard can't change because we won a game or because we played well for one week. Great teams give you the same effort every time, and we need to see that.” Teams heading in opposite directions take the field on Friday night. Marion, which has won six of its last eight games dating to 2021, and Greenwood are the only Class 6A schools to advance to the semifinals the past two seasons. Jacksonville enters Friday having lost six games in a row following a 1-8 finish in 2021. The Titans have not recorded a winning record since 2012, and have not won more than three games in a season since 2014. So far this season, Beebe (43-6) and West Memphis (46-8) have mercy ruled Jacksonville. So how does a favored host team guard against a letdown? “As a staff, we are not patting ourselves on the back after beating El Dorado,” said the coach. “For us, it's been a professional mindset in regards to preparation. It's my job to get the team focused on onto the next game, and we've been preaching that.” There's one thing that stands out about this year's edition of the Jacksonville Titans. “They have two dudes who can fly,” said the coach. “You have to remember that the ball has energy. The person with the ball in their hands is almost always playing hard. If that person is really fast and you want to be lazy, then they're going to run past you.” Jacksonville returns nine starters this season, including returners at tailback, two receivers, and at guard. Jaquon Sanders plays all over on defense, mostly in the secondary. Marion leads the all-time series with Jacksonville 8-2, and the team's first-ever meeting in 2006 was memorable. Jacksonville entered Week 10 with a chance to win a 6A East co-championship with a win over Marion. Instead, the Patriots downed the Titans to create a four-way tie for the top spot in the league with a 23-20 victory at Jacksonville. Marion advanced to the state semifinals for the first time in school history the following week with a quarterfinal victory at Lake Hamilton. RANKINGS RUNDOWN Marion rose back to No. 8 in this week's Hootens.com Class 6A rankings following its victory over No. 10 El Dorado. Wynne, which beat Marion 21-10 in August, remains No. 4 in the Class 5A rankings. Jacksonville is ranked No. 19 this week. TITLE FIGHT Last Friday marked just the fourth time that a defending state champion played in Marion and the first school that isn't Wynne. The Yellowjackets played at Marion as defending champs in 1987, 2002, and 2005. Wynne won the first two meetings, but the Pats knocked off the 'Jackets in overtime in 2005. The El Dorado game was Marion's first meeting with a defending state champion since Searcy downed the Pats 36-14 in 2020. LINEBACKER SHAKEUP Marion senior linebacker Carter Waldo left the El Dorado contest with a knee injury and is expected to miss more than a month of action. Just as Waldo, who's a four-year defensive starter at Marion, exits the lineup, junior Javon Griffin makes his debut at middle linebacker against Jacksonville. Griffin's availability helps Marion slide senior Brian Weatherspoon to outside 'backer and moves junior Dewayne Williams to Waldo's vacant Star (hybrid linebacker/defensive back) role. PLAYERS OF THE WEEK Dickerson earned the Farm Bureau Insurance Player of the Week award for his performance against El Dorado. The senior end logged a pair of sacks and recovered a fumble. Junior Aqeelo Allen earned the team's Offensive Lineman of the Week after showing well in his first career start at right tackle against El Dorado. Junior safety Martavian Banks earned the team's Patriot Award for his good showing on the field and in the spirit of his play. Banks logged three tackles, but punted three times in the fourth quarter, saving one errant snap and getting a kick away. Sophomore defensive lineman Elijah Doss earned Scout Player of the Week. NEW CONCESSION STAND OPEN Friday night marks the first sighting of Marion's new student concession stand. That stand will be located outside the southwest end zone by the old ticket booth. The menu will be the same at both concession stands. 6A EAST RESULTS FROM 9/9/22 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 ENTERING WEEK 3 SCHOOL CONF. RECORD TIEBREAKER POINTS Marion 1-0 4 Benton 1-0 13 LR Catholic 1-0 13 W. Memphis 1-0 13 Sheridan 1-0 4 El Dorado 0-1 Greene County Tech 0-1 Searcy 0-1 Sylvan Hills 0-1 Jacksonville 0-1

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