SPORTS >>Settling for a share
By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor
Despite a bad night all around, Jacksonville still had a chance to beat the Marion Patriots Thursday night. Unfortunately, four interceptions and numerous dropped passes were too much for the Red Devils to overcome, and the Patriots prevailed 23-20, creating a four-way tie for the conference championship that also left Jacksonville as the low man on the totem pole in the state playoff seedings.
As a result of the loss, the Red Devils fall all the way to the No. 4 seed from the 6A-East conference, and will have to travel to No. 1-ranked Texarkana in the first round of the playoffs.
The outlook was bleak as Jacksonville prepared to receive a kickoff with six minutes left trailing 23-14. But senior Justin Akins returned the kick 99 yards for a touchdown. The return gave Jacksonville the momentum, which it added to when Lee Robinson picked off a pass intended for Razorback commitment Jerry Franklin on Marion’s ensuing drive.
After a busted play from the Jacksonville 47 lost two yards, three incomplete passes gave Marion possession on the Red Devil 45 with 3:18 left in the game.
Jacksonville gave up one first down with a face mask penalty, and used all its timeouts on the next set of downs, until Marion was faced with fourth and two. Fullback Darcel Johnson carried left on a straight dive play, picking up the first down by just a couple of inches after measurement. All that was left was for Rawls to take a knee to run out the clock and preserve the victory.
Jacksonville got the ball to start the game and its first drive was a thing of beauty. It took 13 plays for the Devils to march 80 yards, and they did almost exclusively through the air.
Quarterback Daniel Hubbard completed six-of-nine attempts for 74 yards on the drive, including a five-yarder to Marcus King for the score with 7:33 left in the first quarter.
Marion marched down field on its first drive as well, but in different fashion. The Patriots bulled their way to the Jack-sonville 10 before Jacksonville’s Nick Wilson knocked the ball from the grasp of Marion fullback Dominique Bettes and Cameron Hood recovered.
Jacksonville started at its own 9, and picked up 43 yards before being forced to punt on fourth and nine.
Marion went down the field again on its second drive, only this time on the strength of two long pass plays. The first came on third and three when quarterback Austin Rawls hit Franklin for a 31-yard pickup to the Jack-sonville 45. Four plays and 12 yards later, Rawls found receiver Taylor Williams for a 27-yard gain that set up first and goal at the 6. On the next play, Johnson rumbled in for the score to tie the game.
For the rest of the half, Hubbard was under constant pressure, as the Patriots began blitzing the house. Marion defensive lineman Nathan Goodwin sacked Hubbard twice on the next drive, once for an 18-yard loss and again for minus-six yards.
A bad punt gave Marion good position near midfield, but the drive ended harmlessly for Jacksonville as a 38-yard field-goal attempt flew wide left.
It was only a temporary setback, as Hubbard, again under pressure, threw an attempted screen pass into the hands of Dustin Cook, who returned it to the Jacksonville 11.
After a false start and a screen pass for minus-three yards, Marion faced third and 17. Rawls found Franklin again on the next play for 18 yards to give the Patriots the lead heading into halftime.
Jacksonville got one more drive, and moved from its own 5-yard line to the Marion 38 when a shot at the end zone was picked off by Franklin. He returned it to midfield before being brought down with two seconds left in the half.
Jacksonville’s defense was much better in the second half, stopping Marion for three and out on the first drive. Jacksonville gave it right back when Goodwin picked Hubbard off on the Red Devils’ first play of the half.
Starting at the Jacksonville 21, Marion picked up just six yards before hitting a 32-yard field goal to go up 17-7 with 7:46 left in the third quarter.
Jacksonville’s next drive lasted just 53 seconds before punting. Marion hit one 33-yard pass and broke a 22-yard run to the JHS 24. The Patriots again got inside the Jacksonville 10 only to fumble it away.
Jacksonville’s next drive was a two-yard run and two incomplete passes that took just 50 seconds off the clock.
In all, Jacksonville held the ball for only 2:38 of the third quarter and totaled 26 yards.
The Red Devils had the ball to start the fourth, and put together another 80-yard drive to cut the margin to 17-14 with 10:34 left in the game.
With a sense of urgency mounting, Jacksonville went for it on fourth and 4 from their own 40, calling a draw play to Akins.
Akins was hit by two Marion defenders well short of the first down, but kept his feet moving and broke free for 32 yards to the Patriot 28.
Marcus King then made a 20-yard reception for first and goal. After two incompletions, Rob-inson ran it around the left side for eight yards and the score.
The Red Devil defense held and forced a punt, but Hubbard was picked off for the third time on the ensuing possession, giving the Patriots the ball on the Jacksonville 26, and setting up Franklin’s 24-yard touchdown catch that preceded Akins’ big return.
Marion finished with 390 total yards to 265 for Jacksonville.
Hubbard completed 18 of 42 attempts for 214 yards. Akins carried eight times for 45 yards while Robinson carried six times for 30 yards.
King led the Red Devils in receiving with six catches for 64 yards and a touchdown.
Johnson led Marion with 19 carries for 108 yards. Franklin caught three passes for 73 yards and two touchdowns.