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Jackson stumbles 17-10 to district rival Eureka
EUREKA — Jackson has been a victim to the big plays this fall in its attempt to follow last year's playoff success.
The Indians on Friday night allowed a big play by Eureka's defense that made the difference in a 17-10 Wildcats victory in the Class 5 District 1 showdown.
Senior defensive back Antonio Evans snared a deflected pass and returned it 40 yards to the 1-yard line in the third quarter, setting up his own touchdown run that gave Eureka a 10-point lead and provided the margin of victory.
Jackson scored on a field goal in the fourth period to close within seven, but it was unsuccessful on an onside kick and lost yardage on its final drive from its own 26.
Eureka improved to 7-1 and took control of the district race in the opening game between the two favorites.
Jackson fell to 3-5 and probably made this game tighter than many expected, but the game failed to match the intensity of last year's winner-take-all, 21-20 victory by Jackson in the meeting of state-ranked unbeaten teams.
It is likely both teams will make the playoffs, and it is possible they could meet again a little more than four weeks from now in this year's new format for the state playoffs, which now takes two teams from each district.
"We're rivals now since last year," Jackson senior Adam Zweigart said. "We played hard tonight, we just had a few mistakes."
Not many, but two plays proved costly to Jackson.
After Jackson had taken a 7-0 lead on Zweigart's 65-yard touchdown run on the Indians' second offensive play of the night, Eureka pulled within 7-3 on a 25-yard field goal by Corey Smith early in the second period.
On Eureka's next drive, senior quarterback Luke Thurston connected with Austin Evans on a 60-yard scoring play on a third-and-7.
Eureka had two other drives into Jackson territory in the second half, but otherwise the Indians felt good about the defensive effort.
"I thought we played real well defensively tonight," Jackson coach Van Hitt said. "They're a real good running team, and we contained them all night."
Eureka ran for 113 yards on 42 attempts, but Thurston passed for 238 yards, completing 22 of 27 with one touchdown and one interception. He distributed the ball to five different receivers.
Jackson's offense was focused on the running game, and primarily Zweigart, who rushed for 139 yards on 19 carries. He also caught two passes from Marcus Harris for 36 yards.
The rest of Jackson's offense consisted of 44 yards rushing and 4 yards passing.
The intensity picked up in the second half when Eureka attempted an onside kick but was flagged for pass interference by hitting the receiving player before the pooch kick landed. The Wildcats also were flagged with a sideline warning while protesting no call on a stuffed third-and-5 play when the Jackson defense kept driving Thurston backward after the whistle blew.
The Indians took over on downs at their own 32 on the next play. But on second-and-9, Harris rolled left and tried to fire a dart at Ethan Ruch in double coverage. The ball hit Ruch and one Eureka defender and was corralled by Antonio Evans, who scampered down the sideline to the 1. He scored two plays later from the 2.
Eureka threatened again in the fourth period on an 18-yard run by Antonio Evans and a 26-yard pass by Thurston out of a halfback option. But on the next play, Drew Bucher forced a fumble and Mitchell McCulley recovered at Jackson's 20.
Jackson came out with Zweigart at receiver and utilized him twice on a 76-yard drive that closed to Eureka's 4. Bucher and Cole Rodgers also ripped off big gains and McCulley's 7-yard carry, plus a face mask penalty, put the Indians on the 4. Eureka stiffened, and Jackson settled for a 20-yard field goal by Morgan Johnson.
Jackson had the ball one last time from its 26, but turned the ball over on downs.
"Things didn't go our way on a couple of plays, but overall I was pleased with our effort," Harris said. "I think that will fuel us for the next couple games. We hope we get to play these guys again. We'll meet them somewhere down the road."
That could happen if Jackson can take care of Rockwood Summit (1-7) and Central (1-7) then win its first two playoff games.
"If we win the next two," Hitt said, "then we just keep playing until we lose. It's win or go home now."
@z_agate_no tab_no indnt_bld ld:First quarter
J — Adam Zweigart 65 run (Morgan Johnson kick), 6:01
E — FG Corey Smith 25, 9:50
E — Austin Evans 60 pass from Thurston (Smith kick), 5:04
E — Antonio Evans 2 run (Smith kick), 2:25
J — FG Johnson 20, 4:35