By ERIC FORTUNE
For the Star Beacon
It felt like a complete horror show for the Jefferson Falcons. Negative 11 yards of total offense. One first down. Just more than eight minutes of total offensive possession.
Though despite all that ugliness, they trailed just 2-0 at halftime.
Jefferson coach Jimmy Henson’s message was simple and clear to his squad: “Let’s play Falcon football.”
In the end, the Falcons played enough Falcon footbal to escape with a 14-10 win over the Champion Golden Flashes in All-American Conference play.
If there was a common theme throughout the first half, it was the play of both defensive lines as Jefferson couldn’t find a hole to continue drives while on the other side, Champion managed to gain 97 yards on the ground, only to see penalties derail drives or they would stall, thanks in large part to the Falcons stacking the box daring the Golden Flashes to pass.
“We had a couple of penalties that stopped drives,” Champion coach Terry Howell said. “I think we did a lot of things well offensively.”
Henson felt, despite the line play from Champion, his team could use their skill set and speed to put them in favorable positions.
“They have some good football players, especially up front,” Henson said. “The last two years, Brennan Grace, we’ve had trouble with him.
“He’s just gotten after us. We’ve had trouble containing him. Matt Gorrell
gave us problems. I thought we could outflank Jacob Rasey, but he was fast. He was getting there and making tackles.”
After forcing a Champion punt, the Falcons committed a fumble on a snap to Lucas Hitchcock at their own 15 that Hitchcock scrambled to recover, but was corralled by Grace and Rasey in the end zone to make it 2-0 in favor of the Golden Flashes with 4:07 left in the first half.
Things quickly turned around for the Falcons when Hitchcock found Derek Parker on a tunnel screen. Parker turned it quickly down the Champion sideline for a 54-yard touchdown pass to give Jefferson the lead at 7-2 lead, less than two minutes into the third quarter.
“We’ve been running that for years,” Henson said. “We set it up by running that jet screen the previous play. We got it to our fastest kid. When we get it to him, he can make some things happen.”
Heading into the final quarter with the score still 7-2, it seemed a stalemate was reached as drives continued to stall on both ends and a Champion fumble on its third possession of the second half set up the Falcons at their own 44-yard line with a little more than seven minutes left in the game.
Facing a fourth-and-28 from their own 26, the Falcons were set to punt and have their defense try to win it for them, but instead, Joey Batcho barrelled in, blocked the punt and returned it 12 yards to give the Flashes the lead again at 10-7 with 6:04 left.
Despite one 4-play drive that resulted in their only points, the Falcons again found a way, with Hitchcock completing passes of 7, 17, and then 28 to Cole Erdel for the score to once again put the Falcons up, this time 14-10 with a little more than four minutes left.
“I told them we were going to come and throw it a little bit,” Henson said. “We had to get them out of the box. I think that made the difference — the passes we were able to complete.”
There was no trifecta of a big play for the Falcons as Rasey’s pass on third-and-23 was intercepted by Cody Leonardson as the Falcons escaped with the victory. Champion attempted only two passes on the night, with both being intercepted, the aforementioned theft by Leonardson for 9 yards on the return and another by Joe Jackson, which he returned 20 yards.
“Unfortunately, that happens,” Howell said. “The game could have gone either way.”
Fortune is a freelance writer from McDonald.