With the All-American Conference title chase pretty much decided, for the Jefferson Falcons, in terms of season-long goals, only one remains:
Reach the playoffs for the second time in school history.
And, while there are no guarantees, this much is known — Jefferson (5-2, 3-2), which hosts Champion in an AAC clash tonight at Falcon Pride Stadium — must win out to even have a chance at postseason play.
“In order for us to have a chance at the playoffs, we need to finish 8-2,” Falcons coach Jimmy Henson said.
Jefferson is coming off a thrilling 24-21 come-from-behind AAC triumph at Lakeview.
“It was a game that had a lot of momentum swings,” Henson, now 36-41 (.468) in his eight seasons at Jefferson, said. “We had the 10-0 halftime lead, Lakeview made some adjustments at the half and was able to get things going. We were able to regain our composure and fight back for the win.”
The win, combined with some adjacent results, catapulted the Falcons from 13th to the eighth and final playoff spot in Division III, Region 9, and it was gratifying to Henson.
“I’m very proud of the kids,” he said. “They have done that all year and it is satisfying to see it pay off in a victory for them.”
Champion comes to town tonight at 3-4 overall and 2-2 in AAC play after a 35-29 overtime loss to visiting Campbell Memorial last week.
The three wins by Golden Flashes of fourth-year coach Terry Howell (12-25, .324) have come against teams with an aggregate record of 1-20 (.048) — 0-7 Conneaut, 1-6 Newton Falls and 0-7 Girard.
Conversely, the four teams that have beaten them are a combined 15-13 (.536).
Though 5-2 Jefferson is the best team, record-wise, Champion has faced to this point, Henson knows better than to take anything for granted against the Flashes, who run a veer option on offense and a 3-4 defense.
“They run the option well and are very quick on defense,” he said. “Quarterback Jason Naylor runs their offense and is a big-play threat.
“James Dorsey is a fast running back and safety. Jacob Rasey plays fullback on offense and is an active linebacker on defense.
“(Two-way lineman) Brennan Grace is big and strong.”
Mike Cyrus (696 yards, 117 carries, 5.9 average, 11 rouchdowns) leads Champion in rushing.
Naylor has completed 47 of 101 passes (46.5 percent) for 689 yards. He has thrown five touchdown passes and been picked off twice.
More of the same from last week would go a long way toward the Falcons reaching at least six wins in consecutive seasons for the first time since Jason Root’s 2003 squad and Henson’s first Jefferson team in 2004 both won seven games.
Quarterback Tony Chiacchiero completed 20 of 33 yards for 288 yards and two touchdowns and feature back Scott Davidson, in addition to running for 85 yards and scoring a touchdown, filled in at linebacker for the first time for Justin Butler, who will be back this week.
However, the Falcons’ big bird was Kyle Ashburn, who caught six passes for 148 yards and two touchdowns, including a 45-yard gamewinner. On defense, he forced and recovered a fumble when Lakeview was trying to take the lead to seal the seal. He also had an interception, five tackles and three assists.
“Tony had another solid performance — the big thing he was able to stay calm when Lakeview took the lead,” Henson said. “Kyle made really big plays when we needed them, catching the gamewinning touchdown pass and then three plays later ,causing a fumble and recovering it to seal the win.
“Scotty had a good game at linebacker. It’s nice to know that we have more depth now that Justin is back.”
Tonight’s matchup will be the 13th all-time meeting between the Falcons and the Golden Flashes, with Jefferson holding a 7-5 advantage in the series. The last meeting was in Week 2 of the 2004 season at Champion, when Jefferson invaded and planted its flag, capturing a 35-0 triumph.
Henson’s checklist toward a victory tonight is to the point.
“We must play fast — they are a small, quick team that wants to use its speed,” he said. “We must win the turnover battle and everyone must DYJ (do your job).”
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