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Kai Crowe shines in Jackson football’s rout of rival Poplar Bluff

Junior wide receiver Kai Crowe finished with six catches for 185 yards and four touchdowns in the Jackson football team’s 49-21 win over SEMO Conference rival Poplar Bluff on Friday night at Mules Stadium. Photo by Jay Forness

In last year’s Class 5 District 1 Tournament, the Jackson football team’s season came to an end at the hands of Poplar Bluff by one point on the Indians home turf.

While last Friday night’s matchup wasn’t a playoff game, Jackson still managed to avenge the loss with a 49-21 win as the Indians outscored the Mules 28-0 in the second half.

Poplar Bluff managed to take a two-score lead at 21-7 midway through the second quarter, but the Indians didn’t falter for long.
Thankfully for Jackson big plays by freshman running back Jaylon Hampton and junior wide receiver Kai Crowe tied the game up at halftime.

Crowe tied the game at 21-all with one minute, three seconds remaining until halftime after a 21-yard touchdown reception on a screen pass. Just a few plays prior, Kai had recorded a 27-yard reception to place Jackson inside the redzone before a personal foul call against the Indians.

“[Crowe] has grown tremendously, and I’m happy for him because he’s worked really hard at a lot of different things, whether its on the field or off the field,” Indians head coach Ryan Nesbitt said. “To see him having the success he’s having, it’s big for him personally. I’m proud of him.”

On the opening drive of the game, Crowe gave Jackson a 7-0 advantage after coming up with a 65-yard touchdown tossed by senior quarterback Adrian Fox. The Mules failed to answer the score on the ensuing drive, though, which was where seniors linebacker Hunter Ferrell and defensive end Hayden Wessell combined for a sack to force a turnover on downs.

Jackson turned the ball over on downs as well on its next drive as Poplar Bluff finally answered the Indians score on a 3-yard run with a little over one minute remaining in the first quarter.

To start the second quarter, the Mules took a 14-7 lead with 11:39 left in the first half, thanks to a 94-yard punt return for a touchdown. Poplar Bluff added another score minutes later off a 6-yard touchdown run, but this was indeed the Mules final score of the night.

On the next drive after Poplar Bluff took its two-touchdown lead, Hampton broke off a 65-yard touchdown run for his first score of the game. Jaylon finished with 100 more yards on the ground off 18 carries as he scored again in the fourth and final quarter.

“[Regaining momentum] started with Hampton on his big run, and that jump-started us,” Coach Nesbitt said. “The good thing about our guys is even being down at 21-7, there’s no panic on the sideline. Sure we’re frustrated, but there’s no panic.

As for Crowe, he recorded two more touchdown receptions in the second half for Jackson as his final two scores were for a combined 53 yards to finish with 185 yards and four touchdowns off six catches. Crowe leads Jackson’s receiving corps with 24 catches for 534 yards and five touchdowns.

“With Nesbitt coming and [Brent] Eckley leaving, I decided to step up and do a lot of work this offseason,” Crowe said. “It’s paying off. I love Adrian — this December, he and I were out on the field everyday running routes and doing footwork.”

After breaking his collarbone at a young age, Crowe started playing football again in the seventh grade. He prides himself in his agility and route running.

While most Indians only play on one side of the ball or for one unit, Crowe also serves as the Indians kicker, punter and placekicker. Crowe has yet to miss an extra point all year while making two field goals in a 42-35 win over Francis Howell back in Week 2.

“I love [playing wide receiver and kicker] — it’s an adrenaline rush the whole time,” Crowe said. “I really don’t know what it is — I played soccer when I was younger, and I can just boot that thing.”

Crowe accounted for 60% of Fox’s completions as Adrian threw for a total of 223 yards with one interception while only having a 41.67 completion rate. Outside of Crowe, wide receivers senior Blayne Harris and junior Gavin Alspaugh combined for 42 yards off five catches.

Defensively, this was the lowest total Jackson has allowed all season as the Indians, of course, shutout the Mules in the second half. The Indians finished with a total of six sacks as senior nose tackle Reid Landers came up with a game-high two sacks.

“We just had to find a rhythm is what we had to do really,” Landers said. “We didn’t change up much on defense, we just knew we had to get after them. It always feels good to get a sack against Bluff.”

Jackson sophomore inside linebacker Boyd Langford and senior defensive end Trenton Rollet also recorded sacks along with Landers, Ferrell and Wessell.

The Indians defense also came up with two interceptions with both being made by senior outside linebackers Peyton Klund and Fisher Stevens. Stevens also made 12 stops and on tackle for a loss on top of making his first interception of the season.

Making his first game back since the season opener was Jackson senior cornerback Tyson Ford, and he racked up nine tackles and one pass deflection. Most of Ford’s stops were crucial tackles in the open field that prevented Poplar Bluff from making big plays offensively.

“[The defense] settled in after getting off to a slow start,” Coach Nesbitt explained. “A lot of it is just executing and taking care of ourselves, but Poplar Bluff has a couple good athletes over there. We knew that going in, but once our kids settled and started executing better, it was good to see from our defense.”

Next up for the Indians (3-1, 2-0 SEMO) is conference rival Cape Central (2-2, 0-1) this Friday night at The Pit, which is coming off a thrilling 48-41 road win over Class 3 Park Hills Central (3-1). The Tigers fell to the Mules (1-3, 1-1) 42-35 in overtime Week 3, but one of Poplar Bluff’s three losses was to Park Hills Central at 34-13 in Week 1.

Nick McNeal covers high school sports, college sports and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Cape Girardeau County for the past five years. He can be reached at cbjsports@socket. net.

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