By Jay Neal
Volumes could be written, describing the potency of both the Henderson and Jacksonville offenses, as each team has a handful of playmakers that have been dishing out their fair share of misery on their opponents this year, but offense a lone probably will not be enough for either team to be able to exit Lion Stadium Friday night with a District 14-4A victory in their possession.
Jacksonville head coach Steve Wells echoes this point with just a hand full of carefully chosen words.
“I think the team that executes best on special teams and does the best job of eliminating turnovers will win the game,” Wells stated when asked what the key to the game would be this week. “I see both teams being pretty evenly matched and I think turnovers will be huge in a game like this.”
Statistics completely support Wells’ theory.
Both teams come into the game owning 5-2 overall records — Henderson, who has won five-straight games, is 2-0 in league play, while the Indians will bring a 1-1 slate into Friday’s fray.
The Lions, coached by Dickey Meeks who earned his 200th career win earlier this season, are averaging 24 points a game while rolling up right at 300 yards of total offense a night.
Jacksonville has been putting an average of 25.2 points on the board each week while churning out 341 total yards of offense.
Now to turnovers, Jacksonville comes in at plus three in mistakes in district action while the Lions are plus two in turnovers in district.
The Lions and the Indians have faced three common opponents this fall, with both squads duplicating the others outcome with each opponent — both lost to defending Class 3A, Division II, state champion, Carthage, while notching decisive victories over Hallsville (non-district) and Nacogdoches (district).
Henderson’s combined point differential in those three games is 33 points while Jacksonville’s point differential is 27 points.
One stat that is clearly in the Lions’ favor is in Henderson’s two district encounters the Lions area averaging 40 points a game while Jacksonville has only scored an average of 22 points in their district games.
“We know we are going to have to try to put more points on the board than (what) we have been scoring to be able to have a chance against Henderson,” Wells said.
The main reason for Henderson’s offensive success is the play of quarterback Tyrell Jenkins.
Much in the same fashion of Palestine’s Olin Terry, only with a better arm according to Wells, Jenkins can burn a defense with his feet or by using his arm.
He is 71-of-120 for 825 yards (9 TD, 4 INT) in just six games — Jenkins did not play in the Lions’ 47-0 season-opening loss to Navasota due to injury. Jenkins has carried the ball 49 times for 241 yards and three touchdowns, including shredding the Kilgore defense for 110 yards on 12 scampers a week ago.
“I think the main thing that makes them (Henderson) go is Tyrell Jenkins,” Wells said. “He’s a duel threat with a cannon of a arm and he also has the ability to hurt you by running the ball.
“I don’t know if we can stop him, but we will try to contain him.”
At 6-foot-3, Jenkins has a keen sense of vision which enables him to be able to see over the line and dial up any one of six targets that have at least six catches this year for the Lions — Lamarcus Brown is Jenkins’ receiver of choice, with 24 catches for 297 yards and three touchdowns.
It almost goes without saying that the Tribe will have to have another top-shelf defensive effort Friday to have any chance at posting a victory over the Lions.
The Jacksonville defenders have been playing well over the last three games, giving up just 13 points in league play this fall.
Wells said the defensive improvement can be attributed to a vast improvement in basic tackling.
“I think we have done a lot better job of tackling in the last three games,” he said. “We’re not seeing as many missed tackles and coaches, Baysinger, Dolan, Spoon, Armstrong and House have done an outstanding job of making our kids aware of getting themselves under control and not missing tackles.”
Hard-hitting linebacker Justin Jones continues to lead the Indians in tackles, with defensive end JaColby Scott having advanced his game to the next level during the last three games. Safety Duke Hamilton continues to be the unit’s leader and is considered the big play man on defense for Jacksonville.
Offensively, Wells says the Indians will continue to try to achieve balance — Jacksonville has totaled 1,194 yards rushing against 1,193 yards through the air — near perfect balance — this year — against Henderson.
“We feel our offense works best when we are able to be balanced,” Wells said. “Just as we have tried to do all year, we will take what the defense gives us.”
In the end though, everything reverts back to the defense however.
“They say defense is what wins championships,” Wells said. “We are fixing to find that out.”
There is no doubt Wells is correct in his assessment,, but one question begs to be asked.
What team will defense win a championship for, Henderson or Jacksonville?
Speaking of championships; many feel the winner of Friday’s battle between the Lions and Indians will be the unofficial favorite to capture the District 14-4A championship.
NOTES: Friday’s game will be the 79th meeting between the two U. S. Highway 79 rivals, with the first game being played in 1919...Henderson leads the all-time series, 43-32-4...Last year’s 17-14 Lion victory marked the first time Henderson had beaten the Tribe since 1998...Henderson’s first football coach, Miss Viola Cleaves (early 1900’s), was a female...The Lions wore black and gold uniforms up until 1933 when the student body voted to change the color scheme to red and blue...The Lions close the regular season at Lindale and at home against Whitehouse while the Tribe head to Kilgore next week before wrapping things up by hosting Lindale in two weeks...Henderson is converting on third down at just over 30-percent (23-of-75)...Cord Fletcher (LB) leads the Lions in tackles with 69(also has 9 TFL, 4 sacks) while Brandon Tatum (DB) has chipped in with 64 stops and 4 TFL.
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