Patriots celebrate stellar season
First year of Coach Houston era sees Marion win eight
By Tyler Bennett
Marion School District In spite of the way it ended, Keith Houston’s first year as the Marion head football coach was one that Patriots fans are sure to remember for a long time.
The eight wins are the most at Marion since 2011 and, according to Houston, is the result of his players’ belief in his system.
“(The start of the season) was nerve-racking, being my first year as a head coach, but my coaches and these kids bought into our program from the start,” said Houston. “Wins aren’t everything, but to do what we did took a culture change and dedication to those changes.”
Houston and the new coaching staff began work in the middle of June and went to work almost immediately. The team only had two and a half months to adjust to the new staff before the week one matchup at Wynne on August 31.
“That Wynne game is one that I’m going to remember for a long time,” said Houston. “We went to overtime on the road in my first game as a head coach, my nerves were everywhere.
Marion’s offense was able to move against Wynne, but turnovers helped keep Wynne in the game. The Yellowjackets went for the win by going for two in overtime, but an incomplete pass gave the Pats a 24-23 victory.
The victory in Wynne was the first for Marion at Yellowjacket Stadium since 2008. The Pats passed many milestones in the contest, but Houston will also remember the night for a moment after the game.
“My son came up to me on the field and said he wanted helmet and a pair of shoulder pads,” said Houston. “He's been around football his whole life, but he was all about baseball. That night in Wynne was the first time he wanted to play football.
It made me proud.”
The Patriots played Parkview and Blytheville the following weeks to finish the non-conference schedule. Marion kept the games close, but they an ability to play in the clutch and won their first three games by a combined four points.
Marion’s conference schedule started with a home game against the West Memphis Blue Devils. The Patriots out-gained the Devils, but a safety against the Pats proved to be the difference in the 2220 loss.
Marion stayed at home the next week and got their first conference win against the Sylvan Hills Bears.
The third conference game against Searcy in week six was the only other loss for the Pats in the regular season.
Houston’s Patriots would then convincingly win their final four games of the regular season. Marion outscored Mountain Home, Pine Bluff, Jacksonville and Jonesboro by a combined 119 points to secure the second seed in the 6A East.
The Patriot’s season ended in the second round of the playoffs in a rematch with Sylvan Hills, but Houston said the loss would not define the season.
“It’s hard to beat the same team twice,” said Houston.
“Kudos to Sylvan Hills for being hot at the right time of the year, but we won’t let that game affect us moving forward. We’ll be keeping around 80 percent of our offense from this past season, so the future is bright at Marion.”
Marion also received recognition from the rest of the state through all-conference and all-state honors. All-conference selections include Jackson English, Wesley Barrett, Kenta Jones, Josh Green, Antonio Brown, Markel Wynn, Ken Brown, Justin Scott, Kentreal Jones and Antonio Grays. The five all-state selections were Joyrion Chase, Anthony Switzer, Timon Akins, Anthony Price and Daedrick Cail.