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Jackson nips Eureka 21-20 in district thriller
JACKSON -- Friday shall be decreed Matt Lang Day in Jackson.
The senior made his presence felt throughout the decisive fourth quarter.
On offense? Check.
On defense? Check.
On special teams? Check.
Lang intercepted Eureka quarterback Matt Borzillo with just over a minute left in the game as the Indians squeaked out a 21-20 victory against the Wildcats to open Class 5 district play Friday.
"Matt Lang is an incredible player," Jackson quarterback Marcus Harris said. "That's all I can say. He's a miracle worker."
Lang's interception came on fourth-and-8 at Jackson's 35-yard line. Eureka lined up for a 53-yard field goal with standout place-kicker Drew Geldbach and 1 minute, 19 seconds left in the game, but Jackson called timeout.
When Eureka broke its huddle after the timeout, Borzillo was under center and he chucked a pass to his right. Lang stepped in front and raced into Wildcats territory to seal the win.
"I was able to get a good read and he threw it and I ended up getting a good break on it," Lang said. "Luckily I came through with it."
Lang was finally brought down at the Eureka 26-yard line with 1:08 left, and Harris took a knee twice to end it. The Wildcats entered No. 2 and Jackson No. 5 in the Class 4 state rankings.
The interception was the third of three game-changing plays for Lang. The first came after Eureka burned the Indians' defense. Caleb Dixon caught a pass from Borzillo and raced 64 yards for a score to put the Wildcats up 20-14, pending the extra point, with 4:06 left. As Eureka snapped the ball for the extra point, Lang flew in from the kicker's right and swatted down the kick, keeping his team down by six points.
Geldbach, undeterred, gave the Indians horrible field position when he booted the ensuing kickoff into the end zone. Jackson had just over 4 minutes to cover 80 yards.
It didn't take that long. On the second play of the drive, Harris dropped back and let go a bomb down the left sideline toward Lang.
"I was praying when I threw it up God would put it in his hands and he did," Harris said.
The ball landed on Lang's outstretched fingertips and he took off toward the end zone.
"I think [the defensive back] was going to go for the pick and luckily he broke on the ball a little too much and I took advantage of it," Lang said.
He didn't make the end zone, getting knocked out at the 2-yard line and having to settle for a 78-yard reception.
"It was a play designed to beat a man deep," Harris said. "We knew we had to gain a lot of yards. We started at the 20-yard line. We knew it was going to be an important play. Matt came down with it and took off running, just like he was supposed to."
Lang was barely able to corral the throw, but he said he was thankful the ball wasn't underthrown.
"I would rather have him throw it a little too far than not enough," Lang said. "I'm glad he put the ball where it needed to be and luckily I came down with it."
Harris couldn't contain his excitement after seeing his senior receiver come down with the ball.
"Oh my God, I was never so I happy," Harris said. "I just took off running. I didn't know where I was running to, but I just took off running."
Cody Randen punched it into the end zone two plays later to even the score 20-20.
Guess who came on to kick the extra point?
Lang booted the ball between the uprights, giving his team a 21-10 lead with 3:04 remaining and setting up his game-saving interception.
The teams went into halftime tied 14-14 after Jackson put together a 14-play drive that ended when Adam Zweigart found the end zone from 8 yards out with 39 seconds left in the half. But Eureka answered 25 seconds later when Dixon caught a 19-yard pass for a score.
Yards were at a premium in the third quarter. Eureka gained 10 yards while Jackson was limited to 1. One of the Indians' problems was the Wildcats continuously bottled up Zweigart. He rushed for over 100 yards in the first half, but was held under 20 in the second.
"They stacked the line and then they had the linebackers stacked," he said. "So they filled all the gaps and we couldn't really run on them. So we had to block hard and it kind of thinned it out a little bit."
He also injured his right arm and said it might be fractured. He planned to have it X-rayed.
The Indians set the tempo early with their defense. The ball was never in Jackson territory in the first quarter, thanks in part to two fumble recoveries by Jake Wren.
"We knew our defense could step up to the task and get the job done,"Jackson's Cole Rodgers said. "That helps us out a lot."
JACKSON 21, EURKEA 20
J -- Adam Zweigart 9 pass from Marcus Harris (Matt Lang kick), 6:26.
E -- Brad Fitzgerald 1 run (Drew Geldbach kick), 5:35.
J -- Zweigart 8 run (Lang kick), :39.
E -- Caleb Dixon 19 pass from Matt Borzillo (Geldbach kick), :14.
E -- Dixon 64 pass from Borzillo (kick blocked), 4:06.
J -- Cody Randen 1 run (Lang kick), 3:04.