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Pats preach improvement ahead of trip to Greene Co. Tech

Photo Credit: Londa Hamrick

PATS PREACH IMPROVEMENT AHEAD OF TRIP TO GREENE CO. TECH

On the surface, Marion's 49-18 homecoming victory last Friday night over Jacksonville could be considered by some as an average performance with distractions abound. The Pats (2-1 overall, 2-0 6A East) surrendered two long touchdown runs to the Titans, and while the hosts did score 49 points, it may not have felt like they were clicking on all cylinders. However, after watching the film, second-year Marion head football coach Lance Clark sees the situation a little bit differently. “I actually saw a lot of growth last week in the areas that we focused on,” said Clark, an Alabama native. “During last week's preparation, we put a premium focus on pass protection because that's something that's been hurting us so far this year, and we got better in that area, even when Jacksonville sent more pressure. Ben Cherry had a great game kicking it, he fielded some bad snaps and did something with them. We needed other players on the offense to start making plays to make it more difficult for teams to key on our proven commodities, and we got excellent production there.” Marion's offensive front of Carius Curne, Jermaine Davis, Carter Benton, Charlie Cantrell, and Aqeelo Allen did not allow a sack for the first time in 2022, helping the Pats pave the way for 349 yards of offense, including 239 steps rushing. Cherry routinely pinned Jacksonville deep on kickoffs and punts, including a touchback that electrified the special teams meeting room on Monday afternoon. Cherry kicked eight times against Jacksonville for 283 yards, including a long of 60, and the senior punted four times with two resting inside the 20-yard line. Cherry connected on all seven extra point attempts on homecoming. Sophomore tailback Jalen Smith has the look of the next great Marion running back through three varsity games, and Donnie Cheers is as dangerous a receiver as there is in the state, but Clark's staff knows that the Pats need production from other areas. That's why Matthew Kearney, Mitrell Lewis, and Christian Young all stepping up to catch touchdown passes last Week still resonates today. Kearney's first career varsity touchdown, though he did score in Marion's scrimmage victory at Maumelle in August, came on the final play of the first half to give Marion a 21-12 lead. For the second week in a row, Lewis made a highlight-reel quality scoring grab in the end zone. Young started for the first time against Jacksonville, and he gave the Pats a 14-0 lead with his 40-yarder in the first quarter. “That was massive for us because it's rare that one great player can carry you to a title,” explained Clark. “It's good to have that guy who you can go to on crucial downs, but to win three or four playoff games, you have to have other guys be confident and able to step up, and that's what we saw last week.” So what has Marion focused on this week ahead of its first conference road trip to old AAAA East rival Greene County Tech (1-2 overall, 0-2 6A East) in a game that will be broadcast live on MarionPatriots.com and on the Marion Patriots Activities Network mobile app at 7 p.m.? “We have to cut way back on penalties because we have just had way too many this year,” said Clark. “We can absolutely cut back on some of the foolish penalties, but I just mean in general. We have too many holding calls up front and on kicks, and that's fixable.” Clark officiated team drills during practice because “I tend to be extra hard on a lot of those things,” said the coach. “I've been tough on holds, trash talk, and everything that happens in there because we need to recreate what they'll be seeing in a game.” Marion's first opportunity at showing off its fresh fundamentals comes Friday night at Greene County Tech. The Patriots lead the all-time series with the Eagles 13-5, and Marion has won six of the last seven meetings. The teams haven't squared off since a memorable 2011 game that Marion won 82-51, rushing for 713 yards, including 263 yards and six touchdowns from tailback Tre Franklin. Marion and Tech spent 16 years as conference rivals, but the two split in 2006 when the Pats bumped to Class 6A, while Tech moved to Class 5A. The 2022 Eagles return starters at 10 positions, including all-state performer Zion Brown (45 tackles in 2021 with eight sacks), and all-conference offensive lineman Parker Brown. “Tech is a well-coached bunch that plays really hard on every down,” said Clark. “They have a massive offensive line, and they have big receivers. They play really hard in the box and tackle well. They do most everything right, so they won't beat themselves.” Tech opened its season with a 35-0 victory at Paragould in the annual Battle of the Bell before 6A East contenders LR Catholic (38-16) and El Dorado (44-6) clipped the Eagles the past two weeks. RANKINGS RUNDOWN Marion remained at No. 8 in this week's edition of the hootens.com Class 6A rankings, notes, and picks. The Pats opened the season at No. 8 before dropping to No. 9 following the season-opening loss at Wynne. Marion jumped back to No. 8 following its Week 2 victory over El Dorado. Greene County Tech is No. 16 in this week's rankings. PATS ARE HOT Marion is 2-0 in league play for the first time since 2004, and the Pats have not opened 3-0 against conference foes since the 1989 Pats established the school record for wins in a season (nine) by winning the program's first state playoff game in school history (10-7 at Stuttgart). MUSICAL CHAIRS Marion will start its fourth offensive line combination in as many weeks on Friday night when Carter Benton slides to right guard from center, where Charlie Cantrell takes over. Carius Curne, Jermaine Davis, and Aqeelo Allen remain solid at left tackle, left guard, and right tackle, respectively. PLAYERS OF THE WEEK Marion sophomore tailback Jalen Smith earned Crittenden County Farm Bureau's Player of the Week for his performance against Jacksonville when he rushed for 117 yards and two touchdowns. Junior receiver Matthew Kearney won the team's Patriot award. Davis earned the team's Offensive Lineman of the Week, while Kenny Brown earned Scout Player of the Week. WEEK 3 6A EAST RESULTS Marion 49, Jacksonville 18 El Dorado 44, Greene County Tech 6 LR Catholic 38, Benton 14 Searcy 34, Sylvan Hills 28 West Memphis 28, Sheridan 21 (overtime) 6A EAST STANDINGS SCHOOL CONF. RECORD TIEBREAKER POINTS Marion 2-0 17 LR Catholic 2-0 26 W. Memphis 2-0 20 Benton 1-1 13 El Dorado 1-1 13 Searcy 1-1 6 Sheridan 1-1 4 Jacksonville 0-2 Sylvan Hills 0-2 Greene County Tech 0-2 WEEK 4 6A EAST SCHEDULE (All games kick off at 7 p.m.) Marion at Greene County Tech* Sylvan Hills at West Memphis El Dorado at Benton Sheridan at Jacksonville LR Catholic at Searcy *game broadcast on

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