After falling in the district semifinals one year ago, the Jackson football team reasserted its postseason dominance with a 34-point, 55-21 win over Seckman for the Class 6 District 1 Championship Friday night in Imperial.
The Indians held a 48-0 lead after the first half as a majority of the starters sat the bench in the last 24 minutes of the district title game. This was to be better prepared for this Friday’s quarterfinal matchup with five-time state champions Christian Brothers College.
While winning the fifth district championship in the last six years for Jackson was a sweet feeling, the Indians are wanting and hopeful that they can get back to state after winning it just three seasons ago in 2020.
One senior in particular who is putting his grit on display this postseason is senior cornerback TJ Altenthal, who has been playing with a broken thumb since the start of the district tournament.
“[Suffering an injury] was hard at first — I was told I wasn’t going to play, but I got it casted, and I’m playing now,” Altenthal said. “Even though I might not be able to pick a ball up, I’m going to give it everything that I’ve got for my team here.
“[Playing with a cast] ain’t much different — I’m pretty fast on my feet, so I use my speed to my advantage. [Winning a district championship is] real exciting, but we aren’t done yet. We’re going for the state title, so it’s fine and all, but we’re going to enjoy it for the weekend and get right back to work on Monday.”
Since Week 4, Altenthal and Jackson’s defense have not allowed an opponent to score more than 21 points as the Indians recorded shutouts in the first half of both district tournament games.
TJ credits this to back when he and his team stepped up and shutout SEMO Conference rival Poplar Bluff in the second half of Week 4 after allowing 21 points before halftime.
“I say we’ve come together and just know how to bounce off each other’s energy,” TJ said. “If one player isn’t playing good, the other guy is. Ever since the Poplar Bluff game, we’ve really come together as a defense.”
Another way Jackson’s defense has improved significantly is by moving junior Cole Geiser from safety to the other starting outside linebacker position opposite of senior Fisher Stevens.
This was due to Atlenthal being able to lockdown the No. 1 cornerback spot as freshman Blayne Reagan has taken the No. 2 job, which allowed junior Tyson Ford to play the safety spot opposite of senior Flint Guilliams.
Offensively, the Indians lost their star signal caller Adrian Fox to an injured ankle in the first half of their 41-13 win over Lindbergh in the district semifinals. While most team’s seasons would be in jeopardy after losing a player like Fox, sophomore Drew Parsons has proven to the Jackson faithful they shouldn’t be worried and that the future is bright.
In his first career start versus the No. 1 seed and then undefeated Seckman, Parsons passed for 300 yards and four touchdowns while only throwing four incompletions out of his 15 attempts.
“I felt pretty good and really confident all throughout the week — practice is really hard,” Parsons said. “Coach [Ryan] Nesbitt runs a really hard practice, so games are like a celebration at the end of the week.”
Parsons accounted for 206 of his passing yards on scoring plays alone as he found junior wide receiver Kai Crowe for the longest scoring play of the night at 76 yards. Drew also hooked up with senior wide receiver Blayne Harris for two 50-plus yard touchdown bombs and lastly found freshman running back Jaylon Hampton for a 23-yard score.
Crowe and Harris both came up with four receptions as Kai led the game with 132 receiving yards to Blayne’s 126. On the ground, Hampton ran for 106 yards and scored twice on the ground with his first touchdown being a 47-yard run.
“[Winning a district championship] is really easy with guys like Jaylon, Blayne, Kai and our offensive line,” Parsons said. “[My receivers] find really good space — they’re fast, have good hands, and I trust them. I go out to the field with them and throw after school. … I can’t wait for next year and to keep winning this year.”
While coming in for Fox versus Lindbergh, Parsons only had five incompletions on 17 attempts (70.5% completion rate) while throwing for 169 yards and two touchdowns with zero interceptions. If one were to watch Jackson play right now with how Drew runs his team’s no-huddle offense, they wouldn’t be able to tell that he hasn’t been the starter.
“I had a little nerves, but I was more just excited to play and compete for a district championship,” Drew said. “We practice [no huddle] a lot, and I think that’s what we are kind of known for but not really. I love playing fast, and I tell the o-line to get lined up almost every time. I make sure we play fast.”
Quarterbacks having great communication with their offensive line is crucial for success and this year’s unit is, of course, led by Southeast Missouri State commit senior Zane Coon. “They’re all great and before and after the game, I tell [my offensive line] I love them and how much I trust them,” Parsons said.
Even though he’s been the backup quarterback all season, Drew has filled in for Fox throughout the year to gain valuable experience on the field and has also received plenty of knowledge from Adrian himself.
“I learned all the little things from him — he teaches me about looking off safeties, reading coverages and throwing deep balls,” Parsons said. “He has a stronger arm than me, so he just teaches me how to throw a little bit further. Even [assistant coach] Cooper [Callis] works with me on all that. I’ve just got really good mentors, and I’m going to keep moving forward.”
Back when Parsons was in seventh grade, he can recall watching former Indians quarterback Cael Welker leading Jackson to its first-ever state championship. Drew’s second start of his career will be against a CBC team that is allowing 22.3 points per game while scoring an average of 42.3.
“I feel confident — film is big and just practicing hard and full speed every time,” Parsons said. “[Being the Jackson quarterback] is awesome, and in seventh grade I was so excited. I was watching Cael Welker win a state championship and that was so much fun. Now I get to do it.”