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In The Spotlight - Marshall running backs

By Tyler Clifton
Oct. 16, 2013 at 10 p.m.

There is no middle ground, as both Mount Pleasant and Marshall are desperately seeking a win Friday night to keep their playoff hopes realistically alive with three games remaining after Friday.

The Tigers (3-3, 0-1 District 14-4A) have lost their last three games in large part due to injuries which have sidelined no fewer than half a dozen starters, and the Mavericks are looking to take advantage.

It might look miniscule on paper when looking at Marshall's 168 rushing yards last week at Hallsville, but there are several factors to consider. One is how the Mavericks had to abandon the run due to falling behind by 25 points in the second quarter, but the other can be deciphered by looking at the numbers.

Senior Jauque Kuykendall (13 carries, 66 yards), junior Nolan Allen (9-58) and sophomore Deondre Osborne (7-57) averaged five, six and eight yards per carry against the Bobcats, and the numbers could increase if Marshall finds a way to finish drives and its offensive line continues to improve this week.

Harper also added how the execution continues to get better on plays such as some of the screen passes but gives Hallsville credit for timely stops, including one where the defender came from the back end.

"We're continuing to get better as the guys get more comfortable with the offense, and we now have three guys with healthy sets of legs underneath them," Marshall's Clint Harper said. "We've now got a true two-back set with Nolan and Ozzie along with two more kids in Jauque and Marek (Reyes) we can use as combination guys who can accomplish many things if we can get the ball in their hands."

A span of less than 3 ½ minutes was the Mavericks' undoing last week, as two turnovers were the culprit after Jecori Crayton wrestled the ball away for an interception, and Dwayne Johnson returned a fumble caused by David Jackson 44 yards for a touchdown. The 28-3 second quarter proved to the be the final margin, as both teams scored seven points in the first quarter, none in the third and 13 in the fourth.

Harper doesn't believe Mount Pleasant is necessarily susceptible to the run, as he attributes the seven touchdowns (six rushing) by Sulphur Springs' Willie Ivery to an athlete taking advantage of miscues. Tiger coach Mart Graham talked earlier in the week about his team doing a better job of making plays.

"Larry Pryor (Sulphur Springs quarterback) and Ivery haven't checked into our school yet, as they're two of our district's top athletes who are tough to bring down," Harper said. "Mount Pleasant had guys in the area but was in the same boat we were when it came down to not making the necessary tackles."

Marshall has another player who is looking for a breakout game in junior running back/turned receiver John Love, who has battled nagging ankle injuries throughout his Maverick career since he first joined the varsity team two years ago as a freshman. He's currently competing with Trel Patton for one of the inside receiver spots opposite Reyes and is doing what he can to be a valuable part of the Mavs' offense.

"John has had a hard time with the injury bug, and we're trying to find him a place on the field where he can stay healthy," Harper said. "Right now we feel the best place for him to be is at receiver, because he's a heck of an athlete with good hands who catches the ball well and can help us on the inside."

Harper also spoke about the offensive line's progression, including sophomore left tackle Lucas Pritchett and the way he's filled in for senior Alex Silva, who was lost for the year in the Jacksonville game.

"Lucas did a good job allowing only the one sack," Harper said. "Our whole offensive line will be back next year as well as our running back, quarterback and two inside receivers. People better score points and give us our lumps now, because the days of Marshall being the whipping boy will come to an end."

One fact will be how at least one of the three teams between Mount Pleasant, Marshall and the Mavs' Week 8 opponent Pine Tree will make the playoffs due to four of the six district teams qualifying.

"Mount Pleasant knows what's at stake with this game just as much as we do," Harper said. "Both of us have Pine Tree and Texas High remaining on our schedule after Friday. This is the first of two big weeks coming up, because if we win this one, we're sitting pretty next week with the future in our hands."



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