By ERIC FORTUNE
For the Star Beacon
Except for a minute and 16 seconds in the third quarter, the Jefferson Falcons did what they had to do to keep their playoff hopes alive as well as in All-American Conference, National Division play as they overcame a Lakeview flurry of scores to turn away the Bulldogs, 24-21.
“I’m so proud of my kids,” Jefferson coach Jimmy Henson said. “I think we lost our focus for a little bit, but they were able to get it back and make some huge plays.”
The Falcons couldn’t have asked for a better beginning to the game, with quarterback Tony Chiacchiero making completions and finding receivers at ease with 10-of-14 passing for 154 yards passing and an early 10-0 advantage at halftime.
He finished with 276 yards passing on an 18-of-31 effort.
As is the case with a Tom Pavlansky-coached team though, his Bulldog squad was able to make the necessary adjustments when Erich Schmitt’s 8-yard run made it a 10-7 ballgame halfway through the third quarter after a 15-yard Jefferson punt gave Lakeview possession at the Falcons’ 45.
Lakeview would quickly force a three-and-out and set up shop at midfield and ran five straight runs to give it the lead 14-10 less than a minute later on Schmitt’s 23-yard run.
The only miscue from Chiacchiero came two plays into their next possession when his pass was intercepted by Jake Pishotti at the Jefferson 47. One play later, with 5:36 to go in the third quarter, the Bulldogs who had just 52 yards of total offense in the first half, seemingly had a 21-10 lead.
“The kids played hard,” Pavlansky said. “We might have made a couple of adjustments here and there, but we weren’t able to sustain.”
The Falcons finally responded before the end of the quarter, with Chiacchiero finding four different receivers and leading Jefferson on a 15 play, 94-yard drive to cut the deficit to 21-16 on Scott Davidson’s 1-yard run.
“He stood up and regained his composure,” Henson said of Chiacchiero. “It’s what he does.”
After forcing a Lakeview punt, the Falcons would get the ball back and Chiacchiero’s 45-yard pass to Kyle Ashburn would give the Falcons the lead again at 24-21 after Davidson’s run on the 2-point conversion was successful.
“Their skill kids are good,” Pavlansky said. “They have some ability. They are a senior-laden team. They have good chemistry. They made plays when they had to.”
Lakeview’s final drive would end at midfield after Ryan Pishotti’s fumble was recovered by Jefferson.
The win gives the Falcons some hope as they came into the game ranked 13th in Division III, Region 9 to qualify for the postseason.
“We’re hoping,” Henson said. “We’d like to have a shot.”
Fortune is a freelance writer from McDonald.
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