Note: This sports recap appears in the Wednesday, Oct. 23 newspaper on Page B2.
WASHINGTON COURT HOUSE – Once Jackson stopped shooting itself in the foot, it was free to step on the gas.
The Ironmen (8-0) overcame three lost fumbles and nine penalties to score 27 unanswered second-half points in throttling host Miami Trace (5-3), 48-19 on Friday.
Jayden Spires ran for 164 yards, scored three touchdowns, and made perhaps the game’s biggest play – a blazing 84-yard kickoff return that set his team up inside the 10 and led to his own score on the very next play.
The game-altering avalanche was on.
“Jayden has a knack for doing that,” said Jackson coach Andy Hall. “Normally, he’s very patient, but our blockers gave him a seam and he just hit it. It was a huge play. It got us out of a funk.
“It was interesting, because we had just had a conversation with the players this week about responding to adversity,” he added. “When things go bad, who’s going to step up and make a play to stop the momentum. Well, that was the play.”
Before that, the Panthers (5-3, 2-1 FAC) had inserted some drama into what had been, to that point, a 21-0 blowout. First, seconds before halftime, Spires fumbled at his own 6, and the Ironmen defense had to rise up and foil three straight Dalton Mayer passes into the end zone before wrapping up the Miami Trace signal-caller on fourth down as time expired.
Jackson wasn’t out of the woods yet. On its second play after the break, Jacob Winters lost the ball, the Panthers’ Mason Snow returned it to the Ironmen 19, and on the next play, Jayden LeBeau took it into the end zone.
Two holding penalties foiled Jackson’s ensuing drive, and Mayer – who was a mere 2-of-15 for 5 yards in the first half – suddenly found his mojo and connected with speedy Joshua Gilmore for consecutive completions of 45 and 26 yards, setting up LeBeau’s second touchdown run that cut the lead to single digits.
“You can’t give a team like Miami Trace that many chances,” Hall explained. “We started off great, dominating the line of scrimmage. Our coaching staff and our players take great pride in stopping the run. It’s our cup of tea, and we were able to keep [LeBeau] bottled up. But we kept putting the ball on the turf and giving it back to him, and he’s as fast as they come; he’s going to make you pay for your mistakes.”
So, the stage was set, and with the Miami Trace fight song booming in the background, Spires collected Justin Shoemaker’s kickoff at the 4. With nary a moment’s hesitation, Spires sprinted full speed ahead, where the Ironmen blockers had opened a huge hole in the middle of the field. He raced untouched for the first 70-plus yards before Shoemaker tracked him down, but it took another 10 yards and a horse-collar tackle before he could get Spires off his feet.
After Spires took it in from the 6, Jackson turned to its defense and to the arm of Jared Icenhower to put the game away. Grant Mastin’s sack of Mayer stymied one Panther drive, and it took Icenhower just two plays to find Brice Parks running a wheel route along the left sideline for a 30-yard score.
Winters found redemption minutes later, sitting on a slant and baiting Mayer’s throw. His interception set the Ironmen up at their own 40, and soon Icenhower was dropping a dime to Tristan Prater on an out-and-up for his second lightning-quick touchdown toss.
Icenhower’s numbers weren’t eye-popping, just highly efficient. The senior missed the mark only once in nine throws, compiling 140 yards. He also ran one in from 48 yards out.
“Jared did a great job of getting the ball out of his hands much more quickly tonight,” said Hall. “Our receivers did better, too. They ran good routes and made plays.”
Meanwhile, Miami Trace’s playmaker, LeBeau, came into the game leading the FAC in rushing, but he was held to just 51 yards on 18 carries.
“I think it was a little personal for Jayden tonight. He knew the guy standing on the other sideline was leading the league, and he wanted to show what he could do,” Hall said.
Jackson, still undefeated and sitting alone atop the FAC standings, faces an emotional test Friday when it travels to Hillsboro, attempting to avenge its only league loss from last season, one that forced it to share the title with the Indians.
“That was one of the tougher losses I’ve had at Alumni Stadium,” admitted Hall. “And, they’re tough to prepare for. Their 3-back, wishbone set – you just don’t see that anymore.
“What we’ve still got ahead of us will motivate us. But, next week, we won’t have to do much to get the players motivated, trust me. We remember.”