GIRARD — Jefferson High School head football coach Brandon Hanna stood as his team took a knee after Friday’s 35-34 loss to Girard at Arrowhead Stadium.
He told his team to wipe away any tears and hold their heads high because of their effort as the Falcons kept responding against the Indians time after time in this Northeast-8 opener for both teams.
“We really have a locker room full of warriors,” Hanna said. “We’re not satisfied with this. That’s a dang good football team over there in Girard. We knew we were in a dogfight coming here.
“I’d take these guys anywhere, any day. When you get punched in the mouth, knocked down, [you respond]. The type of team we are is dictated on how we respond.”
Jefferson (3-1, 0-1 NE-8) came out of the locker room, down eight at halftime, in good field position on its first drive of the second half after Brent Dietrich took the kickoff at midfield and brought it back to the Girard 10. From there, the Falcons took three plays, capped by Grant Hitchcock’s 3-yard run. He had 72 yards on 15 carries.
The conversion failed as Jefferson trailed 28-26 with 10:34 left in the third quarter.
Things weren’t over as the Falcons put together a 15-play drive spanning 85 yards, capped by Hitchcock’s slant pass to Jonathan Waszil with 3 minutes left in the third. Hitchcock’s pass to Trent Hodge on the conversion put Jefferson up for the first time, 34-28.
Then, the Falcons had a chance to put things away as Jefferson converted on a fourth-and-2 from its own 34 on Hitchcock’s 6-yard run with 10:18 left. However, Jefferson burned two of its three time outs.
The Falcons tried its second flea flicker of the game. A Girard defender knocked Jonathan Waszil at the Girard 30 and the Indians (3-1, 1-0) were assessed a 15-yard penalty with 9:14 remaining, putting the ball near midfield.
Jefferson faced another fourth down with 6:10 remaining, but the Hitchcock to Hodge connection was there for a 24-yard gain, putting the ball at the Girard 20.
Hitchcock finished with 262 yards passing and 77 rushing, accounting for all of the scores.
Hodge had 140 yards receiving.
“We can argue any day that kid has to be ranked as the top quarterback in this league, definitely in our county,” Hanna said.
However, the last fourth-down attempt went awry as Hitchcock ran and tried to shove pass to Hodge again, but there was a misconnection and the ball was turned over on downs with 3:55 remaining.
Girard marched down the field and popped the ball in with 1:56 left on Kyle Bourlier’s 1-yard run. Zach Morris’ extra point was good for a 35-34 Girard lead. Bourlier had over 200 yards rushing for the Indians.
Jefferson tried to regroup for one last drive and had a flea flicker with 37 seconds left. No penalty or completion this time. It was incomplete near the Girard 10.
Hitchcock tried to scramble on a fourth-and-2 on the next play, but came up a yard short.
In the first half, Girard amassed a 28-7 lead as Bourlier had eight carries for 151 yards and three touchdowns.
Jefferson gave up around 250 yards rushing in the first two quarters, but things began to turn around for the Falcons as they mixed in some special teams, trickery and defense.
All Jefferson had was a 38-yard touchdown strike from Hitchcock to Hodge with 2:14 left in the first half.
Hitchcock took the first play from scrimmage with 5:12 left before halftime as he found a wide open Waszil in the middle of the field for an 80-yard TD strike with 4:58 left to cut the Girard lead to 28-14.
David Ellis came up big on the ensuing kickoff as he came up with a Girard fumble and Jefferson took over on the Indians 32 with 4:55 left before intermission.
It took Jefferson four plays to punch it in with Hitchcock’s 16-yard scramble with three minutes left. The Falcons missed the extra points as Girard held a 28-20 lead as both teams headed into the locker rooms.
“Defense did a great job adjusting,” Hanna said. “Offense, we had some more life in us. We got a little bit of momentum.”
Luke Funtash had 20 carries for 87 yards at halftime, while Hitchcock had seven carries for 40 yards and a score. His other two TDs came through the air.
Next week, Girard hosts Lakeview, while Jefferson hosts Niles McKinley.
“We’re going to do whatever we have to do and whatever it takes to compete in this league,” Hanna said.