JACKSON — Much like a phoenix in mythological times, Jackson arose from the ashes after a turnover filled first half.
And although it battled to give itself a chance in the end, its fight came up just short as the Ironmen fell to Tri-Valley 14-12 in a Division III second round matchup, ultimately ending its season.
"This was a 50-50 toss up game because both teams possessed fire power on offense and had defenses that give after the ball," Jackson coach Andy Hall said. "There wasn't a lot of offense, but there were some big plays that caused scoring to happen. It was the ultimate slugfest between two teams that have playoff and conference championship traditions, and Tri-Valley made a couple more plays than we did and that's credit to them."
It was an offensive struggle all night as neither team was able to establish any type of rhythm.
Jackson had three offensive possessions in the first half that ended in an interception, turnover on downs and a fumble in the redzone.
Tri-Valley's also had three possessions. The first ended in an interception and the third resulted in a punt. But the second one it was able to capitalize on.
After the turnover on downs by Jackson, Tri-Valley slowly and methodically moved down the field, completely a couple of huge third and fourth down conversions as well.
The drive ended with Aidan Fritter calling his own number and finding the endzone from two yards away for a 7-0 Scottie lead, capping a first half that took all of 41 minutes in real time to complete.
"That first half, it felt like a running clock was happening since it went by extremely quick," Hall said. "The way the game was moving so quickly, we were thinking that we may only get four offensive possessions. We made a few adjustments at halftime, but we just told our guys to keep playing hard."
On the first play of the second half, Tri-Valley threw a pass that hit off a Jackson defender for a potential interception, only to fall into the arms of the Scotties for a 28-yard reception.
It was that type of night for Jackson as it couldn't catch any breaks up to that point. The Scotties later scored on the drive as Blake Sands to the handoff, hit the edge and cut back in for the seven-yard touchdown for a 14-0 lead.
The Ironmen built up some momentum and drove down the field, however, Tri-Valley's Alex Williams jumped the route on a first down throw for an interception with less than three minutes left in the third quarter.
But then, the Ironmen finally caught a much-needed break as the Scotties fumbled and Jackson's Nate McManaway recovered on the 21 yard line.
A few plays later, Cade Wolford took the jet sweep and found paydirt for the seven-yard score, cutting the game to 14-6 heading to the fourth.
Déjà vu happened on the next drive as the Scotties fumbled again and Jacob Winters recovered the ball on the TV 37 yard line.
"I have to give Jacob Winters credit for playing with a pulled hamstring and an elbow injury," Hall said. "He told me that while yes he's hurt, he can still do some things and he played one heck of a game in the second half.
"We had guys all over the field who were playing out of position a little and making their first start in such a huge spot, and I couldn't be more proud of the heart they all showed and played with."
The Ironmen took advantage of the short field and Evan Spires found Wolford for a 16-yard touchdown pass that trimmed the lead down to 14-12.
The Ironmen defense came up with a stop to get the ball with under three minutes left in the game.
They marched their way down the field with Wolford, Holden Blankenship and Tristan Prater all coming up with huge catches to keep their hopes alive.
"We had to throw the ball a little more in the second half, but the receivers came up big when we needed them," Hall said. "Nate McManaway had probably his best game with four catches, Holden and Cade had huge fourth down catches, Tristan got loose on the final drive as well. I couldn't have asked for anymore from those guys and from Evan Spires, who gutted it out as well after suffering an injury early in the game. They were great."
It came down to the final play with 19 seconds left and the Ironmen attempted to connect with Prater again, but the pass was tipped and intercepted by Fritter to put the final nail in Jackson's coffin.
"Tri-Valley is a really good football team, and it was their night," Hall said. "We played a great second half, cut out a lot of mistakes and gave ourselves a chance. We held them to under 200 yards of offense. Had we played in entire game the way we did in the second half, we would have won. But that's football sometimes, we played tough but it just wasn't our night."
Spires finished with night 17-of-29 for 160 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions. Wolford had 34 yards rushing, 26 yards receiving and two total touchdowns, and an interception.
Jackson now says goodbye to eight seniors: McManaway, Brandon Webb, Landon Erwin, Isaac Kuhn, Blake Cross, Aden Strawser, Macon Perrill, and Treylan Davis.
"These guys were a .500 team throughout middle school, but they continued to trust the process, turned into multi-year starters for us and continued the proud tradition of Jackson football," Hall said. "Five months ago, we didn't know if football was going to happen and here we are at the end of the season. These guys showed true leadership in the most unpredictable year ever. I'm so proud of them for what they accomplished on the field and the young men they became off the field."