More than anything that happened during Saturday's game between Charles H. Flowers High School and Suitland, nothing better epitomized the funk that the Jaguars are in than their final three plays of the first half.
Down by 14 points in an eventual 26-14 loss, Flowers quarterback Roman Williams attempted to lead his team to a quick score with less than two minutes remaining. With the ball at the Jaguars 43-yard line, Williams misfired on his first pass attempt. On the play, Flowers was flagged with a holding penalty, pushing it back 10 yards. On second down, Williams again dropped back to pass and missed receiver Keith Payne.
After the incompletion, two Flowers assistant coaches conversed on the sideline.
“We need to run the ball here. If we keep throwing, it's going to stop the clock and they're going to get the ball back with time to score,” one said.
Head coach Mike Mayo agreed and called a running play.
Williams attempted to hand off to Jeroel Hicks, but they botched the exchange. Suitland's Brandon Brown scooped up the ball and returned it 31 yards to the 4. Flowers' defense then held Suitland to a missed field goal.
“We played well, but we just let little plays beat us,” said Flowers linebacker Bentley Ukonu, who blocked a punt in the end zone and recovered it for a touchdown. “We know it's time to step up.”
Flowers, the reigning Class 4A South Region champion, has lost two straight games and is in danger of missing the playoffs.
One of the few positive aspects of the game for Flowers was senior running back Marcus Mack. Mack played his freshman year at Flowers before transferring to Henry A. Wise as a sophomore because his family moved. He returned to Flowers last year, but was academically ineligible.
Now, in his final high school season, he's back and playing at the school where he started. Saturday, he delivered what may eventually be considered his breakout game.
Mack, a shifty and upright runner, carried the ball 14 times for 126 yards and scored his team's only offensive touchdown.
“I should have finished my runs a couple of times, but it is what it is. I still did pretty good. I feel like I have to prove myself,” said Mack, who started playing in eighth grade.
Flowers running back coach Henry Brady said he sees talent in Mack, but also knows how hard it is for any one of the Jaguars four backs to establish consistency. Flowers frequently rotates its backs, something every running back must adjust to.
“They understand when they come to Flowers that you can't be a selfish player or a selfish running back when you're here. You tell me ya'll want your carries, but that's just the system,” Brady said.
Against Suitland, Mack amassed four runs of 10 yards or more, including one for 35 and another for 32.
“Marcus could be a lot better if he didn't take the time off,” Brady said. “We're very proud of him, but we've still got to get better. He has to get better with lowering his shoulder and ball security.”
Mack wasn't present for the previous two seasons at the Springdale school, but he observed a significant change in the way the team operates in 2012 compared to his freshman year.
“Honestly, we've got to pay attention in practice,” Mack said. “They take practice lightly. They'll be joking around and stuff.
“It's definitely different. Flowers is not the same. My freshman year, when I was on varsity, everyone came to practice. When I came to practice, it seemed like everybody wanted to practice. Now it's lackadaisical.”
The evaluation may seem harsh, but Mack understands the onus falls on him and the other veteran leaders to attempt to change the practice mentality.
“That's going to have to change. As a senior, I have to make sure they're tuned in at practice and paying attention. We've just got to tune them up,” Mack said.
Flowers visits High Point this week before a rivalry game against Eleanor Roosevelt.