Leader Blues

Friday, November 06, 2009

SPORTS >> Marion squeaks by Jacksonville with late interception

Jacksonville defensive back Kenny Cummings tackles Marion running back DeKendrick Smith at Jan Crow Stadium.

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

Marion earned its No. 4 seed out of the 6A-East Conference the hard way, and got all it wanted from Jacksonville in the process in its 43-36 victory at Jan Crow Stadium on Thursday night.

In fact, the Patriots were 12 yards and 28 seconds away from a potential overtime that would have put their playoff berth in jeopardy.

But Marion junior linebacker DeKendrick Smith intercepted a Jacksonville pass at his 3 with 13 seconds left to secure the victory for the Patriots in a game that featured eight lead changes in the second half.

The Patriots (6-4, 4-3) took the lead for the final time with 3:12 left when junior Michael Snipes broke free for a 65-yard touchdown run, his second long score of the night. Justin Carlow ran in the two-point conversion to set the final score, but the
Red Devils took it to the wire with their final drive.

Jacksonville (2-8, 1-6) went 68 yards in nine plays and reached the Patriots’ 12 in the final three minutes.

But Smith sniffed out Red Devil junior quarterback Logan Perry’s pass attempt to senior receiver Devin Featherston in the end zone and pulled down the interception, returning it to the Marion 47 with 13 seconds left.

“It’s been like that all year,” Jacksonville coach Mark Whatley said. “We came out and battled. You can’t question the fight in these kids. There’s no quit in them. It seemed like the younger players were trying to send our seniors out on a good note.”

The defensive struggle of the first half gave way to a shootout in the final two quarters.

Marion finished with 469 yards, 254 of which came in the second half, while Jacksonville had 503 total yards with 310 in the second half.

Marion’s 14-7 lead at halftime quickly evaporated at the start of the third quarter, when Jacksonville junior running back John Johnson scored on a 90-yard run on the first play. Johnson hit the right sideline and accelerated to go untouched for the score.

The Red Devils then used gadgetry on their extra-point attempt. Price Eubanks lined up for his kick, but holder Featherston picked up the snap and threw to Perry, who found Nick Nowden in the end zone to put Jacksonville up 15-14.

Johnson’s 90-yard touchdown run was only one of many big plays by the fleet junior, who rushed for 201 yards on 12 carries and added two receptions for another 115 yards, picking up 69 yards and a touchdown on a catch for Jacksonville’s first score with 7:09 left in the second quarter.

“He can do some things when he gets in the open,” Whatley said of Johnson. “I thought the whole line did a good job up front as well. When he gets in space, he can make things happen.”

Johnson had a 3-yard touchdown run with 7:10 left in the third quarter to give the Red Devils a 22-21 lead after Eubanks’ successful extra-point kick.

Marion answered quickly with a 41-yard touchdown run by quarterback Jonathan Millikin, and threatened to stop Jacksonville’s momentum when it recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. But Featherston stopped a potential Patriot touchdown with an interception at the Red Devils’ 11.

Then Johnson went back to work, mostly on a sweep right play the Patriots struggled to stop. He racked up two straight 10-yard runs to move the ball to the Jacksonville 31 before fullback Antwon Mosby ran for 11 yards to put the Red Devils close to midfield three plays later.

Jacksonville moved near the Marion red zone on the ground, but it was a 26-yard touchdown pass from Perry to Featherston that finished the drive. Perry scrambled and found room near the line of scrimmage and zipped the ball to Featherston in the back of the end zone.

Featherston dragged his feet to stay within the back boundary to put Jacksonville back on top, 29-28.

Brandon Brownlee’s 56-yard touchdown run with 7:20 left to play put Marion ahead, 35-29, but Jacksonville answered again.

It took six plays and 2:19 for the Red Devils to go 80 yards.

D’Vone McClure got things rolling with a 23-yard gain on a double reverse that began with a handoff from Perry to Johnson, who took it 26 yards on the following play to the Marion 31.

Mosby had runs of 17 and 3 yards, and Perry finished the drive with an 11-yard pass to McClure with 5:01 left. Eubanks nailed the point-after, his fourth of the night, to give Jacksonville a 36-35 lead.