Jacksonville's quest to become one of District 16-4A's playoff representatives begins at 7:30 p.m. Friday when the Fight'n Indians pay a visit to Nacogdoches to embark on the conference campaign.
Jacksonville will carry a 2-3 record into the game and the momentum of notching a 40-7 win over Marshall in the Tribe's final non-district game.
The Tribe had an open date last week, and according to Indian mentor Chris Taber, that momentum seems to have stayed with the team.
“Our kids have been very focused in practice, their attitudes have been good and they have been hustling,” he said. “The kids know that the practice games are out of the way and everything is for real now.”
Nacogdoches is 0-5 this year and is coming off a 28-21 loss to Pine Tree last week.
Taber said that the Dragons are a team that is continuing to get better and that the fire breathers should have won last week's contest.
“Nacogdoches seems to be improving each week and when they put it all together they are going to be tough,” he said. “A couple of turnovers late in the game was the only thing that kept them from winning last week.”
Taber commented that Jacksonville’s focus is of an internal nature and that the Indians are not concerning themselves with what the other teams are up to at this point.
“We're responsible for ourselves,” Taber said. “We have to worry about us, not our opponents or what the other teams are doing.
“We dictate our results and our opportunity to go to the playoffs.”
The Tribe's ball coach stated that he believes getting a win in the district opener is very important and maybe magnified by the fact that with only five league games, second chances are basically non-existent.
“I feel like every team in our district is in the mix and that it is going to come down to the four teams that get hot over the next five weeks,” he said. “We have to take care of our business and to get that first district win Friday would be huge for this football team.
“Mainly, we can't do what we've done all year and play one good game and then play an inconsistent game. When you only have five district games, you can't slip up for any reason, or you'll get yourself in a bind.”
NOTES: The Dragons lead the all-time series (29-28-4), but Jacksonville has won 12 of the last 14 meetings and the last four in-a-row...The last time the two clubs played at Dragon Stadium (2010), a national record was set for the longest high school football game (12 overtime periods)...The Indians came out on top in that one (84-81)...Former Indian head coach Steve Wells is responsible for the Dragon receiving corp.
The Indians should be close to 100-percent (physically) this week, with the biggest question marks being quarterback Carter McCown and wideout Kedarrius Buckingham.
McCown has not played since engineering the Tribe to a win over Carthage in Week 0 due to an upper body injury. Taber said McCown is close to being able to return to duty, however.
“Carter (McCown) is continuing to improve,” Taber said. “He is questionable for this week. We want to make sure that he is completely healed and 100-percent when we put him back on the field.”
If McCown can't go, look for Dadrian Franklin to continue to hold tightly to the reins of the offense.
Franklin has proven to be a dual threat, having passed for 719 yards (46-73-3) and eight touchdowns while rushing 47 times for 311 yards and two scores — he also has retuned an interception for a touchdown.
Buckingham tweaked a knee during warm ups prior to the Marshall game and may be held out this week.
“Buckingham hyper extended his knee,” Taber said. “Thankfully, there is nothing damaged in there and it is just a matter of the soreness going away and Kedarrius dealing with the pain.”
Darrell Minifee is the Tribe's leading receiver (28-360, 3 TD), but Londedric Taylor (12-286, 4 TD) is, perhaps, Jacksonville's hottest pass catcher right now — both should figure into the Indians' schemes in a major way this week.
Cory Holman (10-154, 2 TD) is another receiver who has continued to make difficult catches at key times throughout the year.
'Doches has struggled under first-year head coach Bobby Reyes, who has also served as head coach at McKinney and Richardson J. J. Pearce.
The Dragons have scored the fewest number of points (75) of any team in the loop, while giving up the greatest amount of points (183) as well, which does not bode well for success.
Taber said that one key for the Indians will be to control things in the trenches.
“They (Nacogdoches) are much bigger than we are up front, so we'll have to match our intensity on the offensive line against their size,” Taber said.
Don't be surprises if the Dragons use a two-quarterback rotation.
Both Patrick Ledet and Hunter McClellan have similar stats.
Ledet is 37-85-1 — 499 yards and has tossed four scoring strikes while McClellan has completed 28 of 59 attempts for 434 yards. He has three touchdown passes to his credit and has given up a pair of interceptions.
Tae Thomas (25-272, 3 TD) should see his number called frequently. He is a slot receiver and a short yardage specialist of sorts.
When the Dragons go deep they look to Michael Dove (14-240, 1 TD) and to L. J. Barnes (13-258, 1 TD).
On the defensive side, Brian Scott leads 'Doches with 42 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.