Much like last season, the Jackson football team was able to be victorious in their first game of the season back under the Friday night lights.
The Indians faced Hickman, the team they defeated 42-7 at home in 2016, but the Kewpies made it a much closer game this year under first-year head coach Trevor Rubly.
Hickman managed to score 17 more points, 24, in this year’s game thanks to their quarterback-option attack led by senior Deven Crane.
Crane was able to rush for 109 yards and two of the Kewpies three touchdowns on 20 carries. The Indians were able to hold him to a 41.1 passing percentage with only 78 yards and also managed to pick him off twice.
“Defensively, I think we played well enough in some spots to win, especially with us taking the ball away,” head coach Brent Eckley said.
Jackson also forced Crane to fumble the football on two separate occasions with the first being a sack-fumble by senior defensive end Justin Crane.
Justin Crane recorded a game-high three sacks and also broke up one of Deven’s passes at the line of scrimmage on a screen play. Crane finished with a total five tackles as well.
The other fumble was forced shortly after Jackson took a 32-18 lead in the third quarter thanks to senior running back/outside linebacker Ethan Laster’s 58-yard touchdown run.
This fumble was caused by senior inside linebacker Nathan Brown, who recorded a game-high 17 tackles while keeping Hickman’s run game in check for portions of the night.
“We’ve got to continue to work on our leverage,” Coach Eckley said. “There were times where we kind of let the quarterback get out, or we rushed too far up the field and let him get underneath.
“And we struggled a little bit at times with option responsibilities, but they did a nice job running the ball downhill. [That] got us closing hard, and then [they] ran the option.”
Taking a majority of the carries for Hickman right down the middle of Jackson’s defense was senior Christian Davis, who had 18 rushes for 60 yards and a touchdown.
The front seven with first-year starters senior defensive end Bailey Beggs and sophomore defensive tackle Cole Amelunke combined for 17 tackles, most coming near the line of scrimmage. Senior safety Jake Friedrich and junior Jared Wren attacked the line of scrimmage as well for a combined 25 tackles.
With around five minutes left in the fourth quarter, senior cornerback Cole Welker made back-to-back defensive plays for Jackson to regain possession.
The first came on second-and-28 when Deven Crane heaved the ball downfield to senior Derek Abelin, which was batted down by the all-conference senior.
Hickman attempted nearly the same play on third down, and this time Welker came up with his first interception of the season.
“He made some big plays for us tonight, and it’s nice that we can count on him,” Coach Eckley said. “He’s gotten better from last year, and we appreciate his effort there.”
Jackson only scored three less points than it did against Hickman last year at 39 with senior quarterback Cooper Callis throwing for 370 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions on 44 attempts.
Callis spread out his five touchdown passes amongst four receivers, with senior wide receiver Terrico Johnson leading Jackson with two on the night out of his seven catches.
Johnson caught both of his touchdowns in the red zone, which is where Callis was able to find paydirt for the first time in 2017 to senior Drew Moran from 10-yards out on a fade on third down.
“I was pleased with our balance — I thought we had good touches out of all of our skilled guys,” Coach Eckley said. “Maybe the best that we’ve had in quite a while between Terrico and [junior wide receiver] Jordan [Kent]. Drew had several plays up the sideline where he came up with the ball, and [senior wide receiver] Jack Warren had two or three big plays as well.”
Warren was able to make leaping catches on late downs for Jackson to extend drives, which was vital since the Indians had to rely on their passing attack most of the night.
Even though starting running back Ethan Laster finished with 122 yards rushing against Hickman, he only had nine carries with two of those runs being for 50 or more yards.
“The [offensive] linemen kept plugging away — they kept playing hard,” Coach Eckley said. “I think on the perimeter we made a couple of adjustments and were able to squeeze through some big plays on the edge.
“[Hickman was] really overplaying hard to the outside, so we squeezed our receivers down, pinned the defensive end and wrapped up the tackle, and it worked out OK.”
Laster also lined up at wide receiver in the slot where he caught Callis’ second touchdown of the night for 46 yards with 5.7 seconds left in the first quarter to give Jackson a 14-3 lead over Hickman. Laster finished as Jackson’s leading receiver with 145 total yards on only four receptions.
Jordan Kent finished the game with 157 all-purpose yards, 93 coming off two kick returns and 58 on five receptions along with a touchdown. Kent had a few drops in the game, but was able to get Jackson to Hickman’s side of the 50 with his two returns.
“He’s dynamic — he’s a great player,” Coach Eckley said. “I think at times, he’s a really, really good athlete. Then there’s times where he kind of takes that for granted, and there’s times where he’ll take his eyes off the ball, so that’s why he dropped some balls tonight because he’s thinking of making a play.”
Coach Eckley said he and the staff will have to try and slow him down for the team’s upcoming game on Friday. They will try and do this because if Kent’s drops would have been catches, Jackson would have had 150 to 175 more yards of offense, according to Eckley.
Kent took one of his returns all the way to Hickman’s 44-yard line, and Jordan finished the drive by catching a 27-yard touchdown from Callis with eight minutes, 38 seconds left in regulation.
One thing the coaching staff has been working on with their senior quarterback is the ability to rollout and escape pressure, which he had to do plenty against the Kewpies.
Another thing they will be focusing on with Callis moving forward is his decision making, because on his second interception of the night, Coach Eckley knew it was a pass he should not have tried to make.
“On the second interception, he should’ve thrown it outside or should’ve ran it, and that’s just a decision,” Coach Eckley said. “We just want to clean that up a little bit so we don’t give away opportunities.”
During Jackson’s final drive, senior offensive tackle Cade Lattimer went down with what Coach Eckley and the staff are fearing to be an injury to his ACL, but could not confirm at the time.
This injury moved junior Dawson Southard to left tackle and brought in Cole Amelunke to right tackle with the rest of the line staying the same.
Moving to week two, Jackson will face Lindbergh on the road, a team the Indians defeated 49-19 a year ago at the Pit. Coach Eckley says this year’s Lindbergh team, like Hickman, will be better than what Jackson faced last year.
“They’re athletic, they’re big up front, too,” Coach Eckley said. “The quarterback throws it well. He’s a big, tall kid — not as mobile as this one, but he throws it well and I think he’s a really good athlete.”
Coach Eckley says Lindbergh also has a receiver that is nearly 6-foot-5, so the Flyers will be trying to bring Jackson defenders to the box with runs to set up the play-action pass.