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Jackson will try to throw speed bump at Hawks
The Jackson Indians likely have seen whatever it is Hazelwood East brings to the table for today's Class 5 state semifinal game.
The question is whether the Indians can stop it.
The Indians opened the season against some of the speed of St. Louis area teams such as Class 6 schools Riverview Gardens and Hazelwood Central, and they lost. The Indians faced a pass-oriented spread from Farmington, and they lost. Ditto for the first go-round against the balanced spread offense of Eureka.
But from that point on, the Indians (8-5) have rattled off five straight wins, including playoff wins against Chaminade, Parkway North and a rematch with Eureka.
"Our team has evolved so much from the first game to now that you really can't compare early season games to now," Jackson coach Van Hitt said, when discussing common opponents.
Jackson lost to Hazelwood Central (35-7) and Riverview Gardens (32-31), while Hazelwood East beat Hazelwood Central (24-2) in Week 3, but lost by a touchdown in Week 6 to Riverview (34-28).
Hitt said Hazelwood East is a bit like both of those teams.
"And they compare a lot on defense to Eureka, with their linebackers who can get to the ball pretty fast," Hitt said. "They're not going to hit you real hard, but they are going to hit you and play off you real well. They have excellent speed on defense and run to the ball real well. They have good down people up front. It's going to be a challenge for us."
Hazelwood East, on a five-game winning streak like Jackson, has allowed no more than two touchdowns in any one of its last four games.
Jackson has scored 27 or more points in eight of its 13 games this season, including four of its last five.
A couple of the Indians' high-scoring efforts came in losses when Jackson had trouble containing receivers for Riverview and Farmington.
The evolution on both sides of the ball has included personnel moves and gaining experience among those that stepped in to replace graduates from last year's 11-1 state semifinal team.
The defense will get a challenge today from a quick team that uses multiple formations.
"As we scouted them," Hitt said, "I bet they run out of 40 or so sets. They're quick and they do a lot of things offensively to take advantage of their athleticism to get people into open space with the football, and it's hard to tackle a good, quick back.
"They're mainly a run football team. The quarterback is a threat throwing the football and running. We've played the run lately pretty well. We just hope we continue with it."
Hazelwood East showed it can win without a lot of offense in last weekend's 22-8 quarterfinal victory against defending state champion Waynesville. The Spartans generated just 138 yards of offense, but scored on a 58-yard interception return and a 65-yard punt return.
"Saturday afternoon's game is going to be determined more by special teams play and big plays more than basic offense, basic defense," Hitt said. "I think we match up pretty well with them. We just have to keep them from scoring off punt return or kickoff return or interception return, and we just have to control the ball on offense."
* Hazelwood East -- Six-foot-2 senior quarterback Eric Brown has completed more than 56 percent of his attempts (90 of 159) for 1,238 yards, 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. (Stats for Hazelwood East's win against Pattonville are not included on stltoday.com.) He threw four TDs in the sectional against Kirkwood. Senior Terrell Downing has 20 catches for 393 yards and seven TDs. Senior Chris Weaver has 23 catches for 251 yards, 6-3 senior Courtney Ward has 14 catches for 235 yards and Donald Shumpert has 10 catches for 134 yards.
* Jackson -- Quarterback Marcus Harris hasn't thrown much less than Brown (133 attempts), but has completed only 50 passes (37.6 percent) for 522 yards with four touchdowns and six interceptions. Running backs Adam Zweigart (14 catches for 151 yards) and Andy Winkleblack (9 catches for 130 yards) are among the favorite targets, along with receiver Ethan Ruch (8 catches, 143 yards).
* Hazelwood East -- Senior DeJuan Owens is the leading rusher with 734 yards on 126 carries (5.8 per rush) with eight TDs. E'lon Spight has 279 yards on 62 carries, and Jacques Evans has 153 yards on just 11 carries. Hazelwood East lost lineman Darris Ford, a 6-5, 283-pound senior who committed to Missouri in the summer, back in October when he was suspended from the team.
* Jackson -- The bread and butter of the offense, Zweigart has rushed for 1,785 yards this season in 12 games (he missed one) to surpass his 12-game total of last season. He has 515 yards in three playoff games, including four touchdowns. He has rushed for more than 100 yards in five of the last six games, including his season-high 236 against Rockwood Summit. Drew Bucher has 210 yards and five touchdowns in the playoffs, bringing his season total to 509 yards since seeing more time midway through the season.
n Hazelwood East -- The Spartans scored a defensive touchdown and a special teams touchdown to make the difference in the 22-8 win against Waynesville. They have picked off 11 passes this season. Senior Dominic Nixon has nine sacks, and senior Dominique Fowlkes is the leading tackler with 61 solo stops among his 98 tackles.
* Jackson -- Other than allowing 23 points in regulation of the 38-30 double-overtime win against Chaminade, Jackson has allowed only 47 points in its six other games since Week 7. The Indians limited Eureka to 187 yards of offense Saturday, including 82 rushing, and they have worked their way back into being one of the area's top scoring defenses at 17.54 points per game. Blake Peiffer leads Southeast Missouri with 162 tackles, having double figures in all but one game this season. Cole Rodgers is second with 112 tackles, and defensive end Henry Williams is third with 91. Kevin Pridemore has 10 sacks, Bucher seven and Peiffer and Rodgers four each. Marcus Harris has four interceptions and two touchdowns in seven games since moving into the defensive secondary.