The Jackson football team was one touchdown away from capping off a perfect season and winning its first state championship in program history, but the Indians failed to score another point after the fourth quarter of the Class 5 State Championship.
Jackson (13-1) ended up falling to Carthage (12-2) 27-21 in overtime of what was the program’s third-ever trip to the state title game, while it was the Tigers first as neither team had yet to bring home a state championship.
What helped lead Carthage to winning its first state title was the team’s running game as the Tigers gained 228 yards on the ground. Carthage’s offense was led by junior quarterback Patrick Carlton, who accounted for three of his team’s four touchdowns in the game.
Carlton led the game in rushing with 123 yards, the first time the Indians have allowed a single player to accumulate 100 rushing yards this season, and he had two touchdowns on 29 carries. He also went 6-for-11 passing the ball with 100 yards and one touchdown, but Jackson was able to pick him off twice in the second half.
Coming up with both interceptions was sophomore cornerback Blake Blackman, who returned his first interception for a 16-yard touchdown near the beginning of the third quarter. He also played a role in containing the outside run and finished with 11 tackles and one stop for a loss.
However, the Indians fumbled the ball three times as junior quarterback Cael Welker lost two of them in the first half with one resulting in a touchdown for Carthage.
Welker’s first fumble came on the Indians third drive of the game where they were able to reach the Tigers own 25-yard line. That was the closest Jackson had gotten to scoring all game until Welker fumbled on the quarterback keeper.
Jackson’s defense forced Carthage into a quick three-and-out after senior defensive end Cole Amelunke brought down Carlton for a loss. The Indians only ran two plays on the ensuing drive, though, as Welker fumbled the ball once again on a scramble.
“We know we have to take care of the ball,” Jackson head coach Brent Eckley said. “Neither one of our teams hardly turned the ball over at all this season, so it was frustrating when we put the ball on the ground. That really ended up being the difference in the game.”
On the next play, Carlton heaved the ball to the endzone for senior wide receiver Marcus Huntley to come up with a 36-yard touchdown grab, which led the Tigers to take a 14-0 with under six minutes left in the first half.
Carthage’s first touchdown of the game was on the team’s second drive when senior running back Tyler Mueller scored from 10 yards out to end the first quarter. He finished the game with 87 yards on 25 attempts.
Jackson’s offense was unable to find paydirt on its next drive as Welker was sacked by senior fullback/linebacker Kale Schrader. Welker made up for the offense not getting a first down by punting the ball to Carthage’s 4-yard line.
On the first play after the 61-yard punt, Mueller broke off a 96-yard touchdown for what would have been the Tigers third-unanswered touchdown of the game, but the team was called for holding to take the score off the board. Jackson then forced Carthage to punt.
The Indians got the ball back with 2:05 left in the first half, and they were able to find the endzone as Welker crossed the goal line with 19 seconds left until halftime. In both the quarterfinal and semifinal, Jackson had a chance to score before the end of the first half but failed to each time.
Jackson’s next touchdown came at the beginning of the second half when Blackman recorded the first pick-six of his career, which led the Tigers to get the ball back.
Carthage took over six minutes off the clock in the third quarter on the drive after the pick-six as the Tigers pulled out the jumbo-style offense to pick up short yards. This scheme makes things difficult on a defense because the ball carrier does not have a designed destination.
Carlton scored a 1-yard touchdown run with under four minutes left in the third quarter on the drive in the jumbo package.
“It’s really hard against their offense because you have to play great leverage, and there’s no designed gap where the quarterback or running back is going to run,” Jackson junior inside linebacker Bryce Norman said. “Their quarterback is a really physical runner — he was hard to stop.”
Norman ended up finishing with a game-high 20 tackles along with three tackles for a loss, while fellow junior outside linebacker Randol McDowell paced Norman with 15 stops of his own along with one for a loss. McDowell also forced one fumble.
Carthage’s defense only allowed Jackson to gain a season-low 237 yards as only 113 were recorded on the ground after the Indians recorded 240-plus rushing yards in their last two games.
Welker led the Indians 62 yards and one touchdown on the ground with 19 attempts, while senior running back Seth Waters only gained 50 yards on 15 carries.
Waters managed to lead the game in receiving with 53 yards off seven catches as Jackson resulted to the screen passing game.
“We [ran the screen] on a couple different formations, but they were playing man [coverage], and screen is good versus man,” Eckley said. “Our lineman did a nice job of getting up the field, and our receivers did a nice job blocking. Seth does a good job wiggling through there and getting north.”
Jackson also only had the ball for 16 minutes and 12 seconds of the 48 minutes, while the Tigers had possession for a total of 31:14.
“It was horrible for us offensively, but our defense did a good enough job [keeping us in the game],” Coach Eckley said. “They scored, so we didn’t have to do anything, but I was nervous we wouldn’t really have any flow. It made it tough because we had a lot of plays that we wanted to call but couldn’t because of the limited opportunities.”
Jackson’s final score of the game came in the fourth quarter on its first possession of the second half when Welker was forced to roll right to find a receiver in the endzone.
Welker was able to hook up with senior wide receiver Michael Schneider for a 13-yard touchdown, who made a diving grab to secure the catch and score. This tied the game 21-21 with 10:08 left in the fourth quarter.
The Indians thought they had a touchdown four plays earlier as Welker was able to connect with senior wide receiver Luke Starzinger for the score, but the touchdown was called back due to a lineman being downfield.
Jackson’s defense forced another three-and-out for Carthage’s offense to give Jackson possession with 6:30 left in regulation, but the Indians went three-and-out as well on their drive. This allowed the Tigers to get the ball back with 5:26 left until the end of the fourth quarter, and they reached the Indians 33-yard line, but Blackman recorded his final interception of the game to end the drive.
At their own 8-yard line, Jackson decided to run the clock out to take the game into overtime. In high school overtime, both offenses get to possess the ball at the opposing 25-yard line to score.
The Indians picked up a first down and reached the 7-yard line, but a holding penalty brought the offense back to the 27-yard line. Welker was sacked for the Indians last play on offense, as the team’s defense allowed Carthage to score in four plays on the next drive. Carlton scored from 2 yards out following a 23-yard pass to Schrader.