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Struggling Jackson falls to Eureka in football districts
The start of the three-game district schedule Friday night brought the promise of a new start for a winless Jackson team.
When the mud finally had settled after their district opener, the Indians were left staring at an 0-1 start to their new season and an 0-8 mark with the new and old records combined.
Eureka successfully parlayed a first-quarter fake punt into a touchdown and held on for a 7-0 victory over the struggling Indians.
The seven points were a season-low allowed by the Indians, but the shutout was the second of the season encountered by a stagnant Jackson offense.
Struggling to gain traction all year, the Indians' offense had little use for the sloppy tract that hampered both teams. Jackson could mount just 36 yards of offense in the first half -- all on the ground -- and finished the contest with 143 yards of offense.
The Indians did not penetrate Eureka territory in the first half and only twice ventured across midfield in the game.
In contrast, Eureka started four possessions in Jackson territory and mustered 241 yards of offense. The Jackson defense held stout on numerous occasions, but most notably early in the fourth quarter.
After Jackson's first venture into Eureka territory ended with a fumble at the Wildcats' 21, Eureka quarterback Chase Bollinger carried on seven of the next eight plays. A 9-yard Bollinger run gave the Wildcats a third-and-1 at the Jackson 6, but the Indians thwarted the drive when they turned back Bollinger on successive plays, then running back Walter Williams.
"I think it says a lot about our defense, two plays down here on the foot line we stop them," Jackson linebacker Ryan Marble said. "I just think we put a lot of things together tonight. We've just got to keep our heads up throughout the rest of district play 'cause you never know. Summit could beat Eureka and we're back in the hunt after that."
Eureka failed to pick up a first down on its following two possessions as the Indians kept hope alive for a comeback.
Marble gave part of the credit for the defense's renewed spunk to the return of senior linebacker Cole Rodgers, who sat out the previous four games with a deep knee bruise.
"Cole Rodgers back on the field makes a difference," Marble said. "He's a leader on this team and he makes a difference."
Rodgers introduced himself to Bollinger on the Wildcats' first possession. Bollinger ultimately carried 24 times for 80 yards, but Rodgers buried the quarterback in the mud after a 2-yard gain on his first carry of the game.
"It was good to have Cole Rodgers back in the lineup," Jackson coach Van Hitt said. "This was his best game by far this year. He played with a great deal of emotion because he's a senior and knew it was his last game at home. He played with a lot of intensity. He kind of set the standard on defense and the rest of the kids followed."
Rodgers was the Indians' leading tackler before he was injured.
"I tell you, we were solid on defense," Rodgers said. "I'm not disappointed at all. We were out there it seemed like quite a bit. We just hung in there and kept fighting and gave our offense some chances to score, and being as muddy as it is, that was tough to do."
Eureka was able to accomplish the trick with the help of two special teams plays in the first quarter.
Jackson's first possession ended in a punt that was partially blocked. Eureka's Matt Hentges got a hand on Bobby Clark's kick and the ball advanced just six yards to the Indians' 45.
Eureka quickly faced a fourth-and-10 at the 45 and called on punter Sean Strehl. Instead of punting, Strehl hooked up with sophomore receiver Aaron Schnurbusch down the left sideline for a 25-yard completion.
"We worked on it this week," said Schnurbusch, who had all six of his catches for 99 yards in the first half. "Coach threw it in and it was a good play. I give props to the coaches."
Hitt said the play didn't catch the Indians by surprise.
"They are notorious for running fake punts, and they usually do it out of different sets," Hitt said. "I think what happened is we had him covered, and when the ball was snapped, the defender looked in at the ball to make sure they were punting and the receiver got in behind him a little bit."
Williams hurdled over the right side of the line for a 1-yard touchdown plunge four plays later. Taylor Schwinn's kick proved to be the final point of the game as Eureka led 7-0 at the 4:54 mark of the first quarter.
Jackson's offense sputtered the remainder of the half, getting its only two first downs on a penalty and on a run on the final play of the half. Eureka ran 38 offensive plays in the half for 167 yards, while Jackson had 18 plays for 36 yards.
"As much grit as our defense showed, our offense has the same grit," Hitt said. "It's not just these kids are playing real hard and others aren't. Everyone is pulling hard, they're just having a difficult time putting it together, sustaining drives and putting points on the board."
Eureka continued to have the upper hand on field position in the second half, when Marble forced the Wildcats' lone turnover when he dived in front of receiver Elijah Jackson on a short route over the middle and intercepted a Bollinger pass at the Jackson 45.
"He gave us a boost right there," Clark, Jackson's quarterback, said. "We needed something and he gave it to us."
On a third-and-10, Clark hooked up with Ethan Ruch for a 20-yard screen pass to move Jackson into Eureka territory for the first time. On the next play, Clark completed a 17-yard pass to Eli Gohn for a first down at the Eureka 18.
However, on the first-down play that ensued, Ruch fumbled and Eureka recovered at its 21.
"He never really got his footing the whole play, and I think that kind of threw him off," Clark said of Ruch, who led the Indians with 38 yards rushing on 15 carries.
Jackson never got that close again. Its final gasp was a 41-yard drive in the final two minutes that ended on downs at the Eureka 41 with 35 seconds remaining.
"I was proud of our offense not ever giving up," Marble said. "Going in, coach said Eureka's defense was top notch, and I thought [our offense] gave it 100 percent tonight."
Jackson has road games the next two weeks at Rockwood Summit (2-6) and Central (0-8).
"In my opinion, Eureka is a better football team than both those teams," Hitt said, "particularly because of their defense. They're real sound and solid on defense. And they do enough on offense."
Despite their 0-8 mark, the worst in school history, the Indians remained upbeat that they could claim one of the two playoff spots.
"I think we played a lot better tonight," Rodgers said. "I think we can surprise a lot of teams. The next two that we play, they might not be easy, but I think we can get out and to the playoffs."
E -- Walter Williams 1 run (Taylor Schwinn kick), 4:54
RUSHING -- Eureka, Cole Toti 4-21, Chase Bollinger 24-80, Williams 10-9; Jackson, Ethan Ruch 15-38, Tyler Seabaugh 1-1, Bobby Clark 8-(-7), Eli Gohn 1-0, Mark Copen 1-0, Skyler Kempf 1-1, Trent Sizemore 1-0.
PASSING -- Eureka, Bollinger 10-22-1-97, Sean Strehl 2-4-0-34; Jackson, Clark 14-26-0-110.
RECEIVING -- Eureka, James Norvell 1-4, Andy McNeel 2-9, Aaron Schnurbusch 6-99, Bollinger 1-9, Elijah Jackson 2-20; Jackson, Kempf 2-3, Ruch 6-43, Gohn 2-23, Tommy Selsor 4-41.