Arlington wins Friday night meeting with DeSoto Central

Arlington wide receiver and linebacker, Cannon Linebaugh

By Bill Sorrell

         What DeSoto Central head football coach Shelby Ford worried about happening happened.

         And Arlington senior quarterback Zach Baker made the most of it.

         Entering his team’s game against the Tigers on Friday at Arlington, Ford was concerned about Baker getting out of the pocket and making big plays in the passing game. Baker did along with extending plays with his scrambling ability and helped lead Arlington to a 24-14 victory over the Jaguars in the schools’ first meeting.

         Completing 14 of 19 passes for 224 yards, Baker fired touchdown passes to Cannon Linebaugh and Jake Golday. 

         “That is what he does best,” said Arlington senior wide receiver and linebacker Dylan Keith of Baker’s scrambling.  “As soon as he can find a way to get out of the pocket he is going to make a play no matter where. He is a heck of a ball player.”

         With offers from six different colleges, Baker said it is his vision and feet that make his scrambling possible.

         “I don’t specifically work on it. I just focus on being smart running when I need to and throwing it away when I need to.”

         Arlington head coach Adam Sykes said that Baker is “getting better” each game.

         “That is what I told him. I know that he is going to make some mistakes. I don’t want the same mistakes every game. He has just got to keep getting better and better each outing. Tonight he had one of his better overall games. He protected the ball which was big on our list coming into his game. He is becoming a big part of our offense.”

         Said Linebaugh, “Our quarterback is very underrated but he can really play. He was hitting his targets really well. He had some minor mistakes at the end but overall he played a very good game.

         Linebaugh was one of his targets throughout the game as well Golday, who were both big parts of the Tigers defense as well as offense.

         A senior wide receiver, Linebaugh had a team-high 113 yards on eight receptions including a 7-yard touchdown pass on the Tigers’ first drive of the second half.

         “I thought we would do a better job of containing the quarterback. He did a really good job and No. 2 (Linebaugh) was tough and we knew he would be tough to handle. He made some big plays.”

          Golday, a senior tight end and linebacker, caught a 32-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter giving the Tigers a lead they would never lose.

He finished with two receptions for 76 yards, second behind Linebaugh.

         “The momentum began to turn in our favor after I scored our first touchdown of the night to get us a lead then we got a defensive stop going  into half,” said Golday.

         Keith echoed Golday.

         “That was a big momentum shifter with Jake catching a long pass. That got us in the right mode to keep rolling on offense. He is that kid that can do most anything,” said Keith.

         Golday’s defensive game was stellar.

         “Jake led our defense as well as he ever has before. He didn’t miss any run fits. He stood out in front of everybody,” said Keith.

           He batted down Everett Reichardt’s extra point attempt after DC took the lead on Richard Coleman’s 3-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Golday, at 6-4 and tallest player on the team and has offers from five FCS schools, had a team-high 10 tackles.

         “Jake is a very important piece of what we do both offensively and defensively. He was voted team captain. He supports that role and does what he needs to do with it. He leads by example,” said Sykes.

         Linebaugh said, “Jake had a heck of a game. He was perfect on his fits. He didn’t miss any tackles. He is a good overall player.”

          Sykes said the same of Linebaugh.

         “Cannon is a warrior. I have to basically take him off the field because he goes both ways. It is very rarely that he has to come out. He loves playing football. That is the kind of guy as a coach you like to go to battle with because you know they are giving it everything they have every play.”

         DeSoto Central also had make significant plays.

         Senior quarterback Jason Curry led the shotgun formation power-spread offense. He completed 10 of 20 passes for 103 yards and rushed for 22 yards.  Coleman, a senior, ran for a team-high 69 yards on 11 carries and Marquis Fields rushed for 59 yards on 10 carries. Fields also scored a touchdown.

         The Jaguars rushed for 150 yards for a total offense of 253 yards. Arlington had 317 yards total offense with 93 on the ground. Senior Devouncey Glover ran for a game-high 84 yards on 16 carries and scored a touchdown.

         Sykes called Curry “a really good” quarterback. He also cited the “good play” of Coleman and Fields. “They have two receivers outside that are really good players.  Their offensive line does a good job of holding blocks so the running back can find a seam and get vertical. They are a good team. They are well coached. I expect them to have a good season.”

         Linebaugh said the Tigers were worried about Curry. “He was a very good athlete overall. He ran the ball well and threw the ball well.”

         Senior wide receiver Branson Tita Nwa led the Jaguars with 87 yards on eight receptions. Junior Reginald Bell, Jr., had one catch of 11 yards and sophomore Dorien Smith one for five yards.

         Playing their first game of the season, Ford said that it showed.

         “We had the big play called back on the hold in the second quarter. We had a chance to go in and score. We would have gone up 14-3 then we ended up punting and they scored. That was a big play.

         “We could never stay in a rhythm. We had some good series and drives and couldn’t finish. Jason Curry did a good job for us. A couple of throws we missed early and had an opportunity for big plays and ended up catching on a knee.  I expected us to execute a little better on offense, more consistently. We have got to clean that up.

         “We got into a little bit of rhythm at the end. We have to be more consistent.  I liked the fight we have. That doesn’t surprise me at all. We were playing a lot better in the second half. We have a resilient group. We lost the first game last year and came back the next three games. That is what I expect out of us.”

         Curry said that execution was an issue.

         “We didn’t execute. I didn’t execute as a quarterback which I take full responsibility for. I will build on being a better leader. I need to work on my passing game. My passes weren’t the best.”

         Jaguars junior Julian Bing, a safety, said, “We didn’t play to our full potential. We are a good team. They are a  good team. We have to execute. Defense has got to make stops and get turnovers. The offense has got to do their job. It’s a team effort. No person can win this game by themselves.

         “Our coverages we have to work on most. That is a big part of my job. We did some good things. This not the way that we play. We are a way better team than this. You learn from it.

         “They (Tigers) are really good at extending plays. Their quarterback is really good. It still comes down to us containing him and doing our job. We really didn’t do that. I give him props.”

         Sykes also liked the fight in his team.

         “We have a tough bunch of kids, maybe not the most athletic but overall we have some kids that love playing football and they play for each other. It’s fun to watch,” he said.

         Sykes did not want an Evangelical Christian School replay. The Tigers led at halftime but lost 23-15 Aug. 27.

         “This week thank goodness our first drive after halftime we marched downfield and put points on the board. I thought that was huge as far as momentum.”

         In his first year starting after playing behind Kenny Walker III, now a sophomore Wake Forest running back, Glover is gaining momentum.

         “Devouncey is getting better week by week. I tell the guys it doesn’t matter who has been here before in front you, you can’t compare yourself to them. He has got to be himself,” said Sykes, who had  impact running back Mitchell Faulkner a senior last season “We made some adjustments at halftime with some run stuff that we wanted to do. We talked to him and he listened to that coaching and it worked for him. He had a good second half.

         Calling Walker “my brother,” Glover said that he took notes from Walker, put in the work and his progress shows.

         “It feels good to me. I have been waiting for this moment ever since I have been a freshman looking up to the running backs like Kenny. It’s just a blessing to me. I am just ready.”

         The Jaguars were ready. They scored on a 65-yard drive on their first possession. A 15-yard pass from Curry to Tita Nwa put the Jaguars on the Tigers 45. First down runs by Coleman got to the 28. A 16-yard pass from Curry to Tita Nwa got to the 12 before Coleman ran for the 3-yard touchdown with 5:24 left.

         The Tigers scored on their first possession. Operating the spread offense, Baker scrambled for a first down at the DC 30. Baker’s 23-yard pass to Linebaugh went to the 6. A big tackle by DC’s Jacob Wilson on Baker pushed the Tigers back to the 12. On fourth down, junior Jakob Deshields kicked a 21-yard field goal.

         After a 90-yard drive, Arlington took a 10-6 lead. Baker ran 27 yards for a first down at his 37 yard line. After Sawyer Sterling stopped Baker for a 7-yard loss, Baker threw a 32-yard pass to Linebaugh to the DC 43. Baker’s 15-yard pass to senior J.J. Johnson got a first down at the 28. After a 4-yard loss, Baker threw a 32-yard touchdown to Golday with 52.9 seconds left in the second quarter. Deshields kicked the PAT.

         Arlington’s third quarter scoring drive went 64 yards. Baker opened with a 13-yard first down pass to Linebaugh at the DC 49. Later a 16-yard pass to Linebaugh got to the DC 19. Keith caught a first down pass at the DC 9. Baker ran to the 7 before passing to Linebaugh 7 yards for a 16-6 lead with 7:04 left. Deshields made it 17-6.

         The Jaguars would then drive to the Arlington 19 yard line. Curry ran for a first down to the DC 46 before Coleman got a first down at the Arlington 40. Fields ran 12 yards for a first down  Gabriel Torres, a Tigers sophomore defensive back, broke up Curry’s pass to Tita Nwa at the 8 yard line.

         In the fourth quarter Tita Nwa kicked a 54-yard punt. The Tigers took over on their 15. A fumbled snap by Baker that was recovered by Sterling gave the Jaguars the ball at the Tigers 10. After a penalty, Fields ran 20 yards for a Jaguars touchdown. Curry ran a 2-point conversion with 8:47 left and it was 17-14.

         “They definitely had some momentum but we knew if we came out and scored this next drive we could regain that momentum and finish off the game,” said Linebaugh, whose 12-yard pass from Baker put the Tigers on the DC 48 setting up their next score.

          Glover then ran 48 yards for a touchdown and a 23-14 lead with 8:05 left in the game. Deshields kicked it to 24-14.

         Arlington tried to increase the lead. Parker McKenzie pounced on a DC fumble at the 23 and Baker’s 9 yard pass to Linebaugh went to the DC 9.

However at the 6, the Tigers fumbled and DC’s Owen McCoy recovered   with 3:42 left.

          “Tonight was a great win. That is a big 6A school in Mississippi. We made some mistakes. We overcame them. It was an ugly win but good. We had some turnovers. We came out really slow on the defensive side of the ball but we ended up fixing some things making some adjustments and slowed them down a lot,” said Linebaugh, who was pleased with his game. “I had some pretty good fits. I did miss a couple of tackles. Overall I played a pretty good game both ways.

         “A lot of us have been getting a lot of playing time since we were sophomores. Now that our seniors we know our defense is definitely our back bone. We rely on that a lot. (Tigers run a 3-4). Our defense is really, really good. Our run defense especially is very talented.  We stopped them from running the ball. We knew if we can stop them running they would revert to passing. We did well finding the open space if the route wasn’t there.”

         Baker said, “Our defense stepped up big time. I learned how well we can play on both sides of the ball. Our whole team stood out to me. We have a lot of positives and we have to fix the little mistakes.”

         Golday thought both the offense and defense “looked great” and has been impressed with “sophomores that are really stepping up. We play well together.”

         Keith said, “We didn’t let anything affect us. We had a couple of turnovers. We came back and kept rolling and scored. We capitalized on defense whenever there was a turnover.”

         The offensive line had made some halftime adjustments that helped the Tigers.

         “Coach (Devon) Coburn did some good things with those guys at halftime and changed up some blocking schemes. I think it helped us overall,” said Sykes, in his sixth year as head coach.

         The offensive line rotates six starters, junior Jackson Powers, senior Alex Maddox, senior Carson Brimhall, junior Logan Patton, senior Jackson Ward, senior Chancellor Purnell. They also play defensive line.

         “We rotate every snap,” said Sykes. 

         Ford, who is in his fifth year as head coach, said that Sterling, who is a team captain, led on defense along with Bing, junior strong safety Ryan Musselwhite and Tita Nwa, a strong safety.

         “Nobody is perfect. I thought the secondary got better as the game went on. I thought the D-line did better. Ryan Musselwhite played hard and did well both inside and outside. Offensively the running backs ran had, had the holes and had opportunities,” said Ford.

         The Jaguars lost eight seniors from last year’s 6-5 team. Curry called them “big seniors” including left tackle, left guard, defensive ends, who are all playing college football this season. 

         “We have to fill those gaps,” said Curry, who enters the game with the mindset of “score, score, win. Do everything for them because they do everything for me. There is a lot of love. I have been playing with these guys since I was very young. I want to accomplish something great here.

         “I want to leave a legacy. I want to do something that hasn’t been done before and leave my name so I am never forgotten.”

         His faith fuels his game.

         “I pray before every game and after every game, before every drive  keeping God close to me. I make sure I keep my faith strong. He’s everything and I just try to keep going through,” said Curry.

         Glover’s goal is to play professional football.

         “I love the sport. I love the work. I love to do whatever it takes to get to that level,” he said.

         Said Linebaugh, “I am trying to have fun. This is the last year. I try to go out score some touchdowns, make some tackles and win a lot of games.”

         So does Keith. He wants a first-round playoff seed and win out the rest of the games.  Arlington (2-1) hosts 6A Lewisburg (1-0) at 7 p.m. Friday.

          “We need to bring some energy. If we come out flat we are going to be smacked in the mouth. If we come out with more energy each game there is no telling what we can do this season,” said Keith.

         DeSoto Central hosts Pontotoc (1-0)  at 7 p.m. Friday.

         With offers from Southeast Missouri, Tennessee-Martin, Austin Peay, Central Arkansas, the University of Pennsylvania, Golday wants to have a full season and improve and as Keith wants a region championship.

         He knows team closeness will continue.

         “We are a family and a lot of us have been playing football since we were 6 years old,” said Goldday.

         Baker, who has offers from Oberlin (Ohio) College, Bethel, Alma (Michigan) College, Ohio Wesleyan, Trinity International (Illinois) University, Judson (Illinois) University, has a goal of “making myself better as well as my teammates around me.”

         Baker has 7 returning starting teammates on defense, 6 on offense. He along with Linebaugh, Golday, Keith will be looked to for leadership said Sykes. DeSoto Central has 8 returners on offense and 8 on defense. Two “big-time starters” opted out of playing this year said Ford because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

         The Jaguars had 14 first downs to the Tigers’ 16, 8 penalties for 66 yards, Arlington 5 for 48, 5 of 16 first down conversions, the Tigers 5 of 10. Baker rushed for 6 yards, John Davis 3.  Keith had 2 receptions for 17 yards, Johnson 1 for 15. Tita Nwa averaged 38.7 yards on three punts and had a team-high kickoff 37 return yards. Curry returned one kickoff for 22 yards and Troy one return for 19 yards.  Deshields averaged 37.5 yards on two punts. Arlington’s Carter Wood returned a kickoff for 10 yards, Esten Dunn one for 6 yards.

         Linebaugh, Johnson, Wood each had 3.5 tackles, Mckenzie 1.5, Powers 1, Parks Wallace 1,  Torres 2.5, Maddox, Keith 2 each. Also in on tackles were Jack Myers, Nick Smith, Khaliun Spears each having one half.

         Linebaugh was impressed with the game’s sportsmanship.

         “It was very classy game. They were very respectful at the end. It shows how good a team is when they know how to lose,” he said.

         Sykes is thankful to be playing.

         “It’s a weird, weird year. This year has been very strange. We are glad to be playing football right now. That is what I told the guys. Be excited that you can play. You never know when it can be taken away,” he said.

         For this game, Arlington announcer said, “Wrap it in Blue and Gold.”

Then played MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This.”