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JHS focused on finishing strong after rough stretch

A young Jemison team has taken its lumps this season, but the Panthers are focused on improvement and not frustration.

Jemison (2-4 overall, 1-3 in Class 5A, Region 4 play) fell to Helena, 42-14, last week for a third consecutive region loss by at least 28 points.

“We’re not quitting,” JHS coach Jake Hogan said. “They’re still fighting. We have a youthful team, and we have to learn how to get over that hump. That’s what we’re focusing on.”

The Panthers might be closer than it would appear at first glance.

For example, JHS trailed by one score to Helena and was driving with a chance to tie the game with about 5 minutes left in the first half. An interception killed the drive and started a chain of events that ended with the Panthers down 35-0.

“That’s a sign of the situation being bigger than us,” Hogan said.

Jemison hopes a return to the friendly confines of Panther Stadium for the first time since Sept. 5, for the school’s Homecoming, might provide the advantage needed to pick up its second region win.

The Panthers will have to protect the football on offense and tackle well on defense, Hogan said, against Sumter-Central (1-3, 1-3).

Finishing drives has especially been a problem for JHS, Hogan said. The Panthers move the ball well between the 20-yard lines but often stall within sight of the opponents’ goal line.

The coach said success in the “red zone” often comes down to individual match-ups. There’s less space for an opponent to have to defend, so one-on-one competition becomes crucial—as well as avoiding mistakes that result in negative plays.

A reason for optimism is the continued growth of Jemison’s offensive line. Because of injuries and the coaching staff trying to find the right mix of players, the same five starters haven’t lined up in the same positions for two consecutive games yet this season, but Hogan said he hopes that will change this week.

At left tackle, junior Clay Cunningham is the veteran of a group that also includes sophomore Christian Flores at left guard, sophomore Mason Sanders at center, freshman Noah Glenn at right guard and sophomore Marcus Tompkin at right tackle.

Hogan said Cunningham has set an example for his unit mates after a poor game earlier in the season.

“He bought into the concept of trying to improve every day, every week, every game,” Hogan said.

Hogan said he has also been pleasantly surprised by the growth of the team’s freshmen and sophomores, players without much experience who have been counted on to fill crucial roles with this year’s varsity team.

Ultimately, Jemison must learn how to better respond to adversity, such as that game-changing interception against Helena.

“Helena did a good job of ‘smelling blood,’ so to speak, and we didn’t do a good job of responding to it,” Hogan said. “Our guys let that one play deflate us. I didn’t like that at all.”

Also this week

•Isabella (4-1) at Verbena (3-3)

•Thorsby (4-2) at Fayetteville (3-3)

•Maplesville (5-0) at Ellwood Christian (3-3)

•Notasulga (4-2) at Billingsley (4-2)

•Chilton Christian (2-4) at Cullman Christian

–All games begin at 7 p.m. unless noted otherwise