On Friday night, the Jackson football team officially started its first season without MFCA Hall of Fame head coach Brent Eckley, who had coached the Indians the past 10 seasons and helped them win their first state championship three years ago.
Jackson ended up falling in its first game without Eckley, but by only nine points as the game was tied at 21-all with less than a minute remaining in the fourth quarter. Despite allowing those nine game-deciding points in the final 33.5 seconds, Indians first-year head coach Ryan Nesbitt was still proud of his team.
“I’m proud of the effort and competition — I thought they played hard, and I thought they battled,” Coach Nesbitt said. “That’s a positive, and our identity is not defined by an outcome. It’s never a fun feeling when you lose, but they’re great kids.
“We’ve got two choices because the sun is going to come up tomorrow, and we have an opportunity to wake up, get right back to work and continue to grow. I think we have the chance to be a good football team, but there’s plenty of things we have to fix in our own house.”
One could say that Jackson was its own worst enemy in the 30-21 loss to Edwardsville on the road that night as the Indians had multiple false start penalties on offense, as well as having a few encroachment flags. Jackson was also called for pass interference on the Tigers final scoring drive.
“[The flags] had a huge impact because there were a lot of times we just beat ourselves and it had nothing to do with the opponent,” Coach Nesbitt said. “As a competitor, you start with me, ‘What can I do better? What can I do to improve,’ and that trickles down. No offense or football team is good enough to overcome pre-snap penalties, and we’re no different.”
However, there were plenty of bright spots throughout the game for the Indians as their offense proved to have the same big-play mentality like fans saw in the Eckley regime. The first score of the game for Jackson was a 75-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Adrian Fox to senior wide receiver/cornerback TJ Altenthal.
This touchdown catch was Altenthal’s lone reception of the game, mainly because he was also serving as the Indians No. 1 cornerback on defense, where he recorded 11 tackles, five pass deflections and one forced fumble.
Altenthal’s forced fumble was recovered by Jackson sophomore inside linebacker Boyd Langford, which helped hold Edwardsville to just seven points in the first half.
On the Tigers previous drive, they nearly marched 95 yards for a touchdown but junior cornerback Tyson Ford stopped that from happening by intercepting a pass from Edwardsville’s future Division-I quarterback senior Jake Curry (Southern Illinois commit).
“[Those turnovers] were one of the keys [to a close game],” Coach Nesbitt said. “Our defense never panics and never flinches — it bends but it doesn’t break. Even though we were fatigued, I thought the kids just battled no matter where we were at.”
Also making plays against Curry was senior defensive end Hayden Wessell as he brought him down for a sack, while freshman cornerback Blayne Reagan also broke up a pass of Curry’s.
Also coming up big for Jackson’s defense was a multiple-year starter at safety in senior Gavin Guilliams, who recorded a team-high 20 tackles with one for a loss. Fellow Indians like junior inside linebacker Marcus Cutsinger and junior safety Cole Geiser paced Guilliams and Altenthal in tackles with 10 and nine, respectfully. Langford also had eight stops to go with his recovered fumble.
Curry accounted for all four of the Tigers touchdowns through the air as he connected with junior tight end Jack Weaver for two of them. Curry hit senior wide receiver Joey DeMare for the game-winning touchdown, while he also hooked up with senior Michael Hedge for six.
One thing that should be noted is that some of the Indians starters on defense didn’t play for a majority of the second half, which forced players like Reagan and seniors outside linebacker Cayden Meyers and corner-back Dru Herring to step up.
Going back to Jackson’s offense, Fox nearly connected with senior wide receiver Blayne Harris for what would’ve been a 75-yard touchdown on the opening drive, but the pass was just out of Harris’ reach.
Fox finished with a total of 290 yards and two touchdowns with zero interceptions throwing the ball as he completed 57.6% of his passes (19-of-33). Adrian’s second and final touchdown pass of the night ended up going to Harris, who came down with the ball after it was bobbled by a defender.
Fox had another lengthy pass to one of his receivers in junior Kai Crowe, who recorded a 54-yard reception to put Jackson in scoring territory with less than five minutes left in the game. Indians freshman running back Jaylon Hampton recorded his first Friday night touchdown a few plays later on a short run to tie the game.
After Edwardsville tied the game with 33.5 seconds left, Jackson ended up allowing a safety for two points after Fox was sacked in the endzone after having to recover what appeared to be a mistimed snap. The Indians also had a play wasted in the first half after Adrian had to recover another bad snap.
Along with his passing yards, Fox also ran for a team-high 77 yards on 14 attempts (losing a total of 25), while Hampton paced him with 47 yards on the same number of carries. Crowe led Jackson in receiving with 109 yards on seven catches, while Harris also hauled in seven passes for 67 yards.
Next up for the Indians (0-1) will not be an easy task as they host reigning Class 5 State Champions Francis Howell (1-0) this Friday night at The Pit. The Vikings handled Jackson last season 41-14 at Francis Howell and are coming off a 21-17 victory over Ft. Zumwalt North (0-1) in Week 1 heading into this year’s rematch.