Home games against West Memphis, Jacksonville and Jackson, Missouri dot slate
By Chuck Livingston Sports Editor
Five home games and a new conference alignment highlight the 2016 football schedule for the Marion Patriots. Marion went 5-7 in 2015, capped off by a road playoff win against Lake Hamilton. The Patriots were eliminated in the quarterfinal round of the state playoffs by eventual Class 6A runner-up Greenwood. Perhaps the most intriguing non-conference game on Marion’s schedule will be the home opener on September 9 against Jackson, Missouri. “They play in the 5A classification in Missouri, which is the largest classification in that state,” third-year head coach Jed Davis says. “They’ve got a really good program and they haven’t won less than eight games in the past few years. So we’re playing a team that competes for championships in Missouri. Their coach said that they travel real well and they often times have more fans in the stands than even the home team.” Last season, Marion played Nettleton in the second week of their non-conference schedule, but the Raiders did not want to continue playing the Patriots following a 34-14 Marion victory last year. The non-conference road portion of the schedule will include trips to Wynne on September 2 and Blytheville on September 16 in weeks 1 and 3, respectively. Marion beat each team last season, en route to a 3-0 non-conference run. “I really like opening up the season against Wynne because you know that you’re playing one of the best 5A teams in Arkansas. It’s a tradition-rich program, as well. You know you’re coaching against Chris Hill, so you know you’re getting a quality opponent there,” explained third-year head coach Jed Davis. “Blytheville, these past few years have won a lot of games. They shared their conference title last year. They’re extremely athletic. So, between those first three games, we’re gonna find out real quickly where we stand.” While the non-conference slate features some intriguing matchups, conference play gets underway on September 23 at Patriot Stadium against the West Memphis Blue Devils. West Memphis is 12-0 all time against Marion, including a 34-21 win at Hamilton-Shultz last season. While Marion has played West Memphis every season for the past 10 years in conference play, this year’s game will take on added importance with the old 7A/6A-East blended conference giving way to the new-look 6A-East. Marion’s meetings with West Memphis in 2014 and 2015 did not count towards either school’s playoff seeding, but that’s no longer the case as every conference game the Patriots play will help determine their postseason destiny. “We love playing West Memphis every year,” Davis says. “When we line up against Cabot, or North Little Rock, and they have 100 kids or more out there, it’s just different. It’s good for us to get them off of our schedule and let them play Conway or whoever else. Jacksonville is more our size, and that’s probably better for us. They’ll have athletes, they’re a well-coached team and we’d have to play well to win, but against Cabot you’re thinking that we’ll have to play really, really well, they’ll have to be down a little bit and then we may have a chance.” Marion will rekindle an old conference rivalry on September 30 when they host Little Rock Hall. The Pats will hit the league road for the first time in 2016 on October 7 when they travel to play Searcy. The Lions have had Marion’s number since 2012, winning all four meetings, including a 49-14 victory on Marion’s homecoming last season. On October 14, Marion will host Mountain Home in the school’s 2016 homecoming tilt. The Pats have won seven straight games against the Bombers, dating back to a 49-12 defeat on October 17, 2008 in Mountain Home. The Pats have never lost to the Bombers at Patriot Stadium. As the season enters the home stretch, the schedule will pick up a bit, at least on paper. On October 21, Marion will go to Pine Bluff to play the two-time defending Class 6A state champion Zebras. “Swapping out North Little Rock for Pine Bluff is like exchanging one monster for another,” Davis says with a laugh. “But for us, if you’re serious about winning a 6A state title, you have to go through Pine Bluff, because they’ve won it the past two years. They’re the measuring stick in our classification, which is great. I also like that we play them late because we’ll get a test towards the end of the year and we’ll see where we’re at heading into the playoffs.” The end of October will also mark the end of Marion’s seniors regular season home careers. On October 28, Jacksonville is scheduled to play Marion on the Pats’ senior night. Marion will wrap up its 2016 regular season up on Thursday, November 3 with a trip to Jonesboro. August 23, at Gosnell (scrimmage) September 2, at Wynne September 9, Jackson, Missouri September 16, at Blytheville September 23, West Memphis September 30, Little Rock Hall October 7, at Searcy October 14, Mountain Home October 21, at Pine Bluff October 28, Jacksonville (Senior Night) November 3, at Jonesboro All games are scheduled for a 7 p.m. kickoff.