Thursday, August 25, 2005

Patriots take opening victory


Marshall Academy’s conditioning paid off in its season opener Friday night – a game played in plus 90-degree temperatures and high humidity that lasted just over three hours.

The 17-member-strong Patriots scored two fourth quarter touchdowns to pull away for a 26-7 victory over Rossville, Tenn. It was a contest plagued by penalties and turnovers.

“We’ve been practicing twice a day, conditioning twice a day and lifting (weights) twice a day,” head coach Wade Griffin said. “I think they (the players) can see it helped. It was a big, big trump card for us.

“Some of them even told me after the game, ‘Coach, we feel good about where we are condition-wise.’ We’ve got to keep working. It (the heat) is probably not going to let up much.”

Griffin said it was the longest football game he’d ever been involved in. The third quarter alone lasted 55 minutes.

Sophomore Tyler Sanders gave Marshall a huge jump start on a hot night. He returned the opening kickoff 82 yards for a touchdown. The extra point try was unsuccessful.

“That didn’t surprise me,” Griffin said. “We work hard on special teams every day, and that’s another important opportunity for us to score and set the tempo.”

The Rebels bounced back to take the lead. They drove 64 yards in 15 plays and reached the end zone by means of a 10-yard pass from Boomer Mize to Blake Bennett. Dustin McCaskill kicked the extra point for a 7-6 Rossville advantage.

MA grabbed the halftime advantage, thanks to a 7-yard scoring run by Sanders off right tackle midway through the second quarter. A try-for-two failed. It was 12-7.

The Patriots padded their lead at the 7:29 mark of the fourth period. Sanders hauled in a 26-yard scoring toss from quarterback Justin Gray, another sophomore making his first start. It was Sanders’ third touchdown of the night. Again, a try-for-two was unsuccessful, and Marshall was up 18-7.

Almost two minutes later Rossville coughed up the football at its own 10, and Blake Work recovered for the Patriots.

A couple of plays later Work carried 6 yards for another Marshall Academy touchdown. Running back Jarvis Holloway fumbled into the end zone on the two-point try and teammate Jake Paylor recovered for the 26-7 final score.

“Overall, I was pleased,” Griffin said. “We definitely feel better than we did a year ago (a disappointing 7-6 loss at Rossville to start the 2004 season).

“Everyone is aware that our numbers are not like we probably want, that we’re very young and that Mother Nature is not cooperating.

“We did some good things offensively and defensively. I could see us getting low on the gas gauge in the second half, but I feel good about this team. I can look at what we’re doing and get excited.”

The Patriots had 204 total yards to 94 for the Rebels. Marshall had four turnovers and Rossville six.

Sanders had 158 all-purpose yards, 36 rushing, 26 receiving and 96 in returns. Work carried 11 times for 72 yards, his longest for 19. Gray was two of eight passing with the touchdown and two interceptions. Holloway snagged a pass for 37 yards.

Top tacklers for Marshall were Holloway with 10, plus two fumble recoveries. Getting seven tackles each were Houston Dodson and Buddy Farris. Work, Thomas Rodgers and Rick Looney had six each. Rodgers also had a fumble recovery. Sanders and Joe Cunningham had interceptions.

On the down side, the Patriots were flagged 16 times for 107 yards. The Rebels were penalized just five times for 38 yards.

“That’s unacceptable,” Griffin said. “That will be addressed, even though I’m sure fatigue played a part.”

He said his young team must grow up fast. The Patriots travel to Senatobia this week to face larger school Magnolia Heights.

“We have to have a good week of preparation,” Griffin said. “Magnolia Heights looks larger up front. They run the ball hard, but they will also go to the spread and throw it. They’re a physical team. They will hit you.

“We have some good guys, and I’m a big, big fan. I’m hoping the more action they see, the more confidence they’ll gain.”

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