The undefeated Indians hit their season average for points on the button thanks to a big second half in a 41-14 win against visiting Poplar Bluff.
But the Indians (4-0) sent a message they're about more than striking the opponent. They can take a punch, too.
Junior running back Colten Proffer embodied that attribute in the first half when he took a vicious hit from two Poplar Bluff defenders in hanging on to a 3-yard pass from quarterback Ty Selsor on a first-down play midway through the second quarter with his team trailing 7-6.
Proffer first got bruised from the front by Mules defensive back Kimbrayl Miller, and a split second later was nearly removed from his cleats on a backside hit from linebacker Darius Sales. The crowd let out a moan at the brutal double whammy that left the Indians' leading rusher on the turf, where he remained for several minutes while being attended to by the Jackson staff. Both teams took a knee during the uneasy moments.
Proffer eventually left the field under his own power and did not return for the remaining three plays of the series, which ended in a punt.
He demonstrated he had power to spare a few minutes later on the Indians' next possession.
Proffer, who already had scored on an 8-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, touched the ball for the first time on the third play of the series with Jackson at its own 49-yard line. He took a handoff from quarterback Ty Selsor on the second-and-8 play and went over the left side of the line, and sent two Poplar Bluff defenders tumbling in the center of the field with a cutback move that freed him for a 51-yard touchdown.
"He's a tough kid, and he's physical," Jackson coach Brent Eckley said. "I think that's what you get from a kid that's been in the weight room the whole offseason. He doesn't want to give up anything. He's very competitive and doesn't want to sit out. He doesn't want to let his teammates down. That's why he's back in there.
"I think a typical kid who hasn't spent much time in the weight room will probably say, ‘Ah, I'll just sit this half out.' But he got back in there and he got a little bit of a ding in his neck."
Proffer carried two more times in the game, and had to call it a night after he was helped off the field a second time early in the second half. He finished with 98 yards on 14 carries.
"We think he's got bruised ribs," Eckley said. "It might be worse than that. We don't know."
Proffer's touchdown with 3 minutes, 12 seconds left in the second quarter was followed by a Dante Vandeven conversion run that moved Jackson ahead 14-7.
The Indians later would find themselves following Proffer's lead after Poplar Bluff (2-2) struck on a 43-yard scoring pass from quarterback Kortez Ellis to Miller with 26 seconds left in the half to forge a 14-14 tie at the intermission.
It marked the first time this season the Indians did not hold a halftime lead.
"We were kind of upset with ourselves on defense for letting them score at the very end of the first half," said senior linebacker Ken Maudie. "But coming back out, we were like, ‘We can do this, and we've got the confidence to do it.'"
Jackson's defense forced two turnovers in the first half but stepped it up even more over the final 24 minutes. Poplar Bluff punted on its first three possessions after intermission and committed turnovers on its final three. The Mules did not gain a first down until their final possession of the game.
The Indians allowed just 51 yards of offense in the second half after giving up 99 yards and two touchdowns in the first half.
Jackson's offense, which came in averaging 479 yards of offense per game, was held to 156 yards in the first half.
"The first half was pretty sluggish," said Jackson senior Brannon Wright, who added to his team-high receiving totals with seven catches for 80 yards. "It was probably our worst half of the season so far. We couldn't get our blocks and couldn't execute in the first half."
Jackson forced a three-and-out on Poplar Bluff's first possession of the second half and needed just three plays on offense to take the lead for good.
The Indians started at their own 38 and gained 11 yards on two running plays but also lost Proffer in the process.
Moments after Proffer exited, Selsor connected with the speedy Wright behind three Mules defenders for a 51-yard touchdown pass. Adam Brown's PAT gave the Indians a 21-14 lead with 8:58 left in the third quarter.
Jackson's quick-strike attack scored on its next two possessions in the third quarter as junior Garrett Miller, who replaced Proffer at running back, broke loose on a pair of long runs.
Miller first raced 45 yards before drawing a horse-collar penalty from his tackler to set up a 6-yard scoring run by Selsor at the 7:05 mark.
Miller scored on Jackson's next possession when he broke through the middle of the Mules' defense on a 47-yard run to quickly cap a 78-yard, nine-play drive that gave the Indians a 35-14 lead.
Miller finished the game with five carries for 91 yards. He entered the game with two carries for 37 yards on the season.
"In my mind, I've been seeing it as a great one-two punch," Eckley said about Proffer and Miller. "We just haven't gotten Garrett enough snaps. Part of that is because we've been quick play on offense and he just hasn't gotten a whole lot in."
Miller, who plays linebacker, is the Indians' leading tackler.
"He's a great back, and he could be a feature back if we didn't have Colten and he wasn't so dominant on defense for us," Eckley said. "He does such a great job on defense, that's kind of where we had him. He's a good football player, and we'll have to lean on him a little bit more."
Miller received plenty of help on the swarming Indians defense.
Junior Trea Forbs had two sacks, one that forced a first-half turnover, and an interception. Senior defensive backs Jackson Rushin and Lowgn Wren also had interceptions as the Indians won the turnover battle 5-0.
"I'm glad we're bringing the old Jackson Fightin' Indians back," Forbs said. "Hard-nosed football -- that's what we're bringing back."
Jackson mounted 217 yards of offense on 17 plays in the pivotal third quarter, while Poplar Bluff had 11 plays for 10 yards.
"It gets ugly in a hurry against a good football team," Poplar Bluff coach Mark Barousse said. "They've got good skill kids. I thought we played well in the first half defensively. We just kind of killed ourselves in the second half. What we turned it over five times? You can't make the mistakes we made on offense."
Jackson will put its undefeated record on the line Friday when the Indians visit archrival Central.
J -- Colten Proffer 8 run (kick failed), 6:05
PB -- Collin Jones 7 pass from Kortez Ellis (Jones kick), 2:23
J -- Proffer 51 run (Vandeven run), 3:12
PB -- Kimbray Miller 43 pass from Ellis (Jones kick), :26
J -- Brannon Wright 51 pass from Selsor (Adam Brown kick), 8:58
J -- Selsor 6 run (Lowgn Wren pass to Josh Stone), 7:05
J -- Garrett Miller 47 run (kick failed), 1:40
J -- Dante Vandeven 15 run (kick failed), 8:02
RUSHING -- Poplar Bluff, Cornelius Timothy 15-34, Ellis 15-9, Drew Dowd 2-(-8), Cody Slusher 4-12, Bi Nguyen 4-9; Jackson, Proffer 14-98, Garrett MIller 5-91, Selsor 8-22, Vandeven 5-34, Wren 3-23, Jamont Stuckey 2-4, Wren 2-5, Damien Cook 3-10.
PASSING -- Poplar Bluff, Ellis 6-16-3-77; Jackson, Selsor 14-17-0-123, Vandeven 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING -- Poplar Bluff, Jones 1-7, Miller 4-59, Taylor Coleman 2-11; Jackson, Wright 7-80, Proffer 4-14, Miller 1-9, Skyler Steele 1-7, Xominique Davis 1-13.