Jackson 'D' notches shutout vs. Spartans

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Indians limited Howell Central to one first down in the game.

Francis Howell Central football coach Travis Wilson knew exactly what to expect for his first ever head coaching experience Friday night as the Spartans hosted Jackson.

Wilson played on the 1997 Jackson team that went 10-0 during the regular season and won a playoff game against Kirkwood before falling to Parkway Central in the Class 5A quarterfinals.

Carl Gross was the head coach of that team and he and most of that staff are still around in 2007.

"I knew that we would be in for a fist-fight," Wilson said. "I knew that coach [Van] Hitt would have their defense ready to play."

And boy did the Indians play some defense as they shut out the Spartans 8-0 in the season opener for both teams.

Howell Central was the highest scoring team in the Gateway Athletic Conference last year, averaging over 35 points in its 10 regular-season games.

But it did not even get a sniff of the end zone Friday. In fact, the Spartans' offense was limited to eight three-and-outs, two four-and-outs, a turnover and one first down.

"It was a tremendous defensive effort by our guys," Gross said. "This is a defense which can really get out and run. Even our down linemen have a lot of mobility."

Howell Central's only first down came midway through the third quarter.

But a solid and opportunistic Spartans defense kept the game at one possession despite the offensive woes.

"It was a great honor to have my first game against my former coach," Wilson said. "They were just tremendous defensively. We are running a new offense and it's going to always take time when you do that. Coach Gross told me that we were doing the right thing and that makes me feel good.

"The thing I was most proud about tonight was how the defense just never gave up and kept fighting. We never could get going offensively and the defense was out there a lot. They had to go out and battle and they did all night long."

The Spartans forced four Jackson turnovers, two coming on interceptions by Andy Saffo.

Jackson dominated the first half, but only led 8-0 at halftime. The Indians had 11 first downs to none for Howell Central. They ran 40 plays to just 13 for the Spartans.

The only score of the game came on a screen pass from Marcus Harris to Antonio Garritano on a third-and-12 play from the Spartans 25-yard line with 3:44 to play in the first half.

That would be all the scoring that the dominant Indians defense would need.

"We just came out and had a lot of fun tonight," said Jackson senior linebacker Tyler Martin, who was often one-on-one against dangerous Howell Central receiver Pierre Desir. "We realize that defense is what wins championships and our philosophy is simply to go out and play hard each and every play."

Jackson had several other chances to score. The Indians had a 70-yard touchdown run by Adam Zweigart called back on a penalty. Harris also missed a wide open James Perkins in the end zone in the first half.

And one of Saffo's interceptions came in the end zone on a third-and-goal at the 5-yard line.

"The offense was out of sync tonight, but I take a lot of the blame for that," Gross said. "We will get better offensively."

But the Indians could not have been better defensively as Wilson, a former Indians linebacker, would attest.

"That is a very good defensive football team that we played tonight," Wilson said.

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