MANY – Many head coach Jess Curtis acknowledged special team troubles were an issue for his football team in 2021, creating a key emphasis this off season.
The Tigers cracked opened the Winnfield game on a third-quarter Jamarlyn Garner kickoff return for a touchdown, and Class 2A No. 1 Many will attempt to keep the district roll going when Jonesboro-Hodge (2-5, 0-2) visits Friday.
Many (6-0, 2-0) hadn’t salted away the Winnfield win as those other Tigers scored early in the third quarter to chip Many’s lead to 21-14. But Garner answered Winnfield’s score with an 82-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, the first of three straight scores to put Winnfield away.
Garner’s touchdown is Many’s third special teams score this season after Tackett Curtis returned a pair of punts for touchdowns against Sam Houston.
That doesn’t factor in the advantageous field position set up by longer Many returns this season.
“We focused more on our special teams this offseason after feeling like special teams was one of the differences in the state championship game last year,” said Many coach Jess Curtis. “I’m proud of our focus and improvement there.”
That focus has spilled over into the coverage and kicking games as well.
Kicker Deacon Follette is a reliable leg with the Tigers creating poorer starting field position with its kick/punt coverage as well.
Many enters Friday’s contest against Jonesboro-Hodge on a 31-game district winning streak and a 15-game regular-season winning streak.
J-Hodge is coming off a loss to a previously winless Mansfield bunch in 20-12 fashion after starting district play at Red River in a 28-22 defeat.
These Tigers do have a win against Class 5A Pineville and feature a defense that’s held six of its seven opponents to 28 points or less.
“They have some speed and size on defense, and we’re going to have to be ready to come off the ball Friday,” Curtis said. “They were a semifinal team in the playoffs a year ago, and they return some of those guys. We need to be ready.”
J-Hodge went 8-2 in the regular season and nearly met Many in the state championship game save a nine-point loss to eventual champion Amite.
J-Hodge is a new addition to District 3-2A this season and did not meet Many in the 2021 regular season.
Many’s offense has been prolific this season, scoring 30 or more points in five of its six contests and 40 or more in three of those wins.
The ground game is spearheaded by running backs Jeremiah James, Jamarlyn Garner and Trent Williams along with quarterback Tackett Curtis.
Many’s defense has been just as good, allowing just more than 10 points per game, including holding Class 5A members Sam Houston and Haughton out of the end zone.
One thing that Many unit doesn’t have this season is a shutout, and they’ll be facing a J-Hodge group that’s scored 20 or fewer points in five of seven contests.
“These last few games are important to continue to improve,” Curtis said of the final three regular-season games. “We have played a lot of kids and looked at some different things. We want to be battle-ready when the playoffs arrive.”
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