By ERIC FORTUNE
For the Star Beacon
Turnovers are a killer. It’s very simple.
The Jefferson Falcons put together a ground game Friday night that the Campbell Memorial Red Devils did not have an answer for as they rolled up 308 yards, but still came up short 20-19, thanks to three costly fumbles that in essence, killed momentum.
“We have to hang onto the ball,” Jefferson coach Jimmy Henson said. “That team, I believe created five to six turnovers coming into this game. They are very good at it and they attack it. We put it on the deck and it cost us a couple of times.”
No turnover was costlier than that of a Jefferson fumble at his own 35 that was scooped up by Adrien Brown, who increased the Campbell Memorial lead to 14-0 with 1:09 left in the first half.
The Falcons (1-3, 0-2 in All-American Conference) had weathered the storm after an early Red Devil touchdown put Jefferson down 7-0 a little less than four minutes into the game only to see that play ultimately decide the outcome when all was said and done.
“Our defense was very opportunistic,” Campbell Memorial coach Mickey Sikora said. “We kept on battling till the end. We played better in the first half, but they started hitting us on that off tackle.
“You have to give them some credit, though. When the chips were down, we came and made some plays at the end.”
A steady dose of freshman Jeremiah Knight (33 carries for 225 yards) and Justin Butler (13 carries, 83 yards) saw the Falcons in Campbell territory most of the first half only to see their first drive stall at the 22 and the first of three fumbles ended another drive — this time at the Red Devil 15.
Despite the backbreaker with less then two minutes remaining in the first half, the Falcons immediately picked themselves back up and got on the scoreboard five plays later on Knight’s 25-yard run with nine seconds left in the first half to make it 14-7.
Seemingly losing no momentum from where they left off in the first half, the Falcons went on a 6-play, 55-yard drive, with Knight’s 9-yard run making it 14-13 with 9:12 left in the third quarter.
“I thought we played a really hard-fought game,” Henson, whose team played without starting senior quarterback Cole Erdel, said, “Both sides of the ball were getting after it. Both teams had opportunities and they got one more point than we did.”
Campbell Memorial showed some fight when it mattered, though, as Stephan Elash found D.J. Harrison from 4 yards out to increase the lead to 20-13 halfway through the third quarter.
On the very next drive, it was again more of Knight and Butler as they seemingly took turns play after play to get Jefferson again within a point as Knight’s third touchdown of the night — a 5-yard scamper — made it 20-19 with seven seconds left in the third quarter.
Henson elected to roll the dice since the Red Devils seemingly had no answer for the Falcons’ running game, but again a fumble on the exchange between Knight and quarterback Lucas Hitchcock kept the score 20-19 in favor of Campbell Memorial.
“I wanted to get the lead,” Henson said. “We talked about it and I made the decision. The way we were moving the ball, I thought we could run it in and get the lead and we would be in control. It didn’t work out that way.”
After consecutive three-and-outs by the Red Devils, Jefferson again moved the ball at ease, only to come up short at the Red Devils’ 8-yard line as it decided against a 25-yard field goal attempt and again, this time at the Red Devils’ 40, as the first half seemed to creep into their play with drives stalling.
It was an interesting night for both squads with 10 players suspended between them — four for Jefferson, six for Campbell Memorial — as it really came down to who would make a play when it mattered most.
“It was very exciting,” Sikora said. “We had some unforeseen things that happened the past couple of weeks. I’m just very proud the way our kids stuck in there and fought through it.”
Henson declined comment about the suspensions.
Fortune is a freelance writer from McDonald.