UC foe new to playoff atmosphere

UC foe new to playoff atmosphere
UC foe new to playoff atmosphere | UC foe new to playoff atmosphere
Messenger Sports Editor
Eric Martin says he and his MAHS football team are looking forward to the trip to Union City Friday.
And the Lion coach insists it’s not just to take in the scenery.
“We’re coming to play a football game, a playoff football game,” Martin told The Messenger earlier this week. “Our kids are excited, simply because it’s the first time they’ve experienced anything like this. We played at Lancaster Academy in Smyrna a couple of weeks ago, and the kids looked around and saw nice facilities and people in the stands and said, ‘Coach, this is just like a playoff game.’
“They’ll get to experience the real thing Friday, and I’m happy for them about that. But when you get down to the bottom line, we’re coming for one reason. And I hope and believe we’ll come there and play well.”
Union City’s first round Class 1A playoff foe — Memphis Academy of Health Sciences — will be participating in the football postseason for the first time ever in this, the program’s third season of varsity competition. The only single-A football-playing school in Memphis, the Lions are 4-6 after posting records of 1-6 and 2-7 in their first two years as members of the TSSAA and MIAA (Memphis Interscholastic Athletic Association).
“We’re the only charter school in Memphis that fields a football team and, with our student base being what it is, we’re used to being underdogs,” Martin said. “I’m not sure how much of that our kids understand.
“They just know that they’ve made the playoffs, and they’re excited about that because it is an accomplishment that not a lot of people expected from them.”
The Lions will field a typical-size Class 1A roster, according to the coach, with somewhere around 30 or 35 players.
“Our school day is from 7-4, so we’re already at a disadvantage because we can’t start practice until later, and we have to share facilities with our middle school,” Martin said. “And our weight room is tiny.”
Before anyone in Purple and Gold dismisses MAHS as a sacrificial lamb in Round 1, they should hear the other side of the Lions’ story.
Receiver/kick returner Marquez Lanton (Jr., 6-2, 170) has been heralded by insiders as “one of the best all-around athletes in Memphis” and could line up at a variety of positions — even quarterback.
The speedy Lanton — a state track meet participant in the long jump as a sophomore — is reportedly at his best as a pass-catcher, averaging nearly 30 yards-per-reception, but also 34.6 yards on kickoff returns. He ranks among Shelby County’s Top 10 statistical leaders in both categories and has scored seven times.
Quarterback LeMarien Watkins is capable of riddling a suspect Union City pass defense after throwing for 1,280 yards and 10 touchdowns during the regular season.
Running back James Isaac (Sr., 5-7, 151) is likely to get several touches in the spread offensive set of MAHS, while linebacker/safety Nico Scott (6-2, 170) is the team’s top tackler on a defense that will have multiple fronts.
Martin admittedly knows little about the Tornadoes, other than their status as an option-running offense. He surmised that his squad would have a decided advantage in the speed department, but anticipated UC being the more physical of the two squads with the Lions having just two players on the roster who weigh more than 200 pounds.
The Twisters will look to counter the fleet-footed Memphis with their methodical midline/veer offense that features 1,200-yard rusher Keylon Hyde and versatile running/receiving/kick returning threat Khiry Lewis. Linebackers Tymaine Strickland and Hyde are the top tacklers of the Union City defense that has struggled much of the season with bringing down opposing ball carriers in space.
More importantly, UC’s chances of advancing will hinge on how it protects the ball after committing 34 turnovers in 10 games to-date.
And while he wouldn’t venture a prediction, Martin said his team would enjoy the experience.
“It’s a great accomplishment for us to make the playoffs in just our third season and with our first senior class,” the coach concluded. “I just want the kids to take it all in and to have fun.”
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m., 30 minutes earlier than regular season Union City home games.
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by e-mail at mhutch@ucmessenger.com. Published in The Messenger 11.3.11

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