On Friday night, Jackson renews its mid-to-late season meeting with Marietta, as the Ironmen make the long road trip to Washington County for the third time in four years and fourth in the last six.
JACKSON — This week, and for the first time since the midway point of last season, the Jackson High School football team is all about bouncing back.
However, the task of rebounding won’t be an easy one, as the Ironmen are traveling to a Tigers’ den for the first of back-to-back weeks.
On Friday night, the Ironmen renew their mid-to-late season meeting with Marietta, as they make the long road trip to Washington County for the third time in four years and fourth in the last six.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at Don Drumm Stadium in Marietta.
While the Ironmen have successfully tamed the Tigers for three straight years and four of the past five, the complexion of this year’s contest took quite the twist last week.
That twist came in the form of the Ironmen’s first loss of the season.
“The only thing that can get you over a loss like we had is to go out and win,” said Jackson coach Shane Wolford. “Hopefully, this week, we’ll go over to Marietta and play hard and not dwell on the past.”
A past affair which had a sour ending for the Ironmen.
After opening the season 4-0, the Ironmen appeared to be in control of host Gallipolis last week, leading by two touchdowns at three different points in the game, including the final 11 minutes.
But the Blue Devils battled back, scoring 22 points in the final 10:53 to rally for a 36-28 victory and knock Jackson from the ranks of the undefeated.
It was just the latest in a series of heartbreaks for the Ironmen against the nemesis Blue Devils.
Jackson suffered its 10th loss to Gallipolis in the last 11 meetings, including its last five by 10 points or less.
It has also been since 1997, Wolford’s senior season, in which the Ironmen last got by Gallia Academy in the French City.
What made the latest loss to the Blue Devils that much more difficult was the fact that this one truly got away.
A win would have stretched, dating back to last season, the Red and White’s winning streak to nine.
Wolford said mistakes at the absolute worst times are what did the Ironmen in.
Jackson lost two fumbles in the game, including after Gallia scored the go-ahead touchdown and two-point conversion with two-and-a-half minutes remaining.
The Ironmen were also beset by two crucial personal foul penalties — a late hit on Gallipolis’ go-ahead drive and an unsportsman-like conduct call when Jackson had driven to the Gallipolis 15 and under a minute remaining.
“We had two fumbles at crucial points,” said Wolford. “In the end, we made mistakes and we didn’t play as hard as we should have. And Gallipolis was taking care of things and they were making the plays in the end.”
Coupled with the Ironmen mistakes, Jackson couldn’t stop the Gallia Academy offense, which piled up 423 total yards.
It was easily the most yardage and most points allowed by the Ironmen all season.
“We couldn’t stop them,” said Wolford. “They marched the ball down the field on us two or three different times, and hit us with a hitch-and-go pass when we were up by two touchdowns early in the fourth quarter. Our defense is what has been carrying us early on, and it was basically the other way around against Gallipolis. Our defense didn’t come to play, but Gallipolis was never able to stop us. We basically stopped ourselves when we were stopped.”
But what really seemed to leave Wolford scratching his head was his team “not playing as hard as we’re capable of playing.”
“Gallipolis played extremely hard and deserved to win the game,” he said.
Which leaves the Ironmen this week to regain focus on the future, and not dwell upon the recent past.
“You can’t dwell on the past,” said Wolford. “What’s done is done and over with and we have to move forward.”
Despite no longer being undefeated, the Ironmen remain in the top eight of the unofficial Division II, Region 8 computer ratings.
Jackson dropped three spots to eighth, as the top eight teams in each region qualify for the state playoffs.
And, should the Ironmen win out, they will clinch at least a share of the Southeastern Ohio Athletic League championship.
“It was a tough loss for everyone last week, there’s no question about that. But we’re still sitting here at 4-1 when at this point last year we were 2-3,” said Wolford. “We finished last year 4-1.”
Their last win of last year came at the Tigers’ den.
In fact, the Ironmen’s recent past with Marietta has been one-sided, as Jackson has run the football at will on the Tigers in the past three meetings.
But this year’s Tigers, under first-year head coach Andy Schob, enter the contest with confidence after back-to-back victories over archrival Warren (26-21) and Parkersburg South (42-28).
Marietta is 2-3 on the year, but continues to improve as its pass-oriented offense continues to compile impressive numbers.
Senior quarterback Cody Westbrook, a Division II first-team all-district quarterback last season, is one of the top signal-callers in all of Southeastern Ohio.
After a school-record 2,203 yards and 15 touchdowns as a junior, Westbrook is already on pace to surpass those numbers this season.
Through five games, Westbrook is 81-of-150 for 1,304 yards with 10 touchdowns.
“He is hard to get to and he’s a pretty good player,” said Wolford of Westbrook. “He can throw it long, he can throw it underneath, and he’s a pretty accurate passer. They run a lot of flood patterns and crossing patterns and things like that. Their receivers are not overly fast, but they run precision routes and their quarterback puts the ball on the money. They can cause you some problems.”
At least four different receivers have caught a dozen passes for 193 yards, led by Sean Munfield with 19 receptions and 266 yards.
Zane Eschbaugh has 17 catches and Billy Grizer 15, as Grizer is the leading yardage gainer with 374.
Junior Perry Wheeler, with 12 receptions, is the Tigers’ leading rusher and scorer with 510 yards on 95 carries and 54 total points.
He has eight rushing touchdowns.
The Ironmen have struggled some in defending the pass this season, including the 218 yards allowed last week.
In a week two win over Waverly, those Tigers tallied 229 yards through the air on 14-of-29 attempts.
As the Ironmen defense has often seen, look for the Tigers to try and spread the field with multiple wide receivers.
“We’ve made some mistakes covering people where we let our man go, and we’ll take another guy that is not really our responsibility,” said Wolford of the pass-defense problems. “This week, we’ve been working a lot on man-to-man and covering our guys. Marietta is a pass-oriented spread team. We’ll probably do a few things differently this week to help us defend the pass.”
One of those, as is often the case with the Ironmen, is its offense being its best defense.
Look for Jackson to try and play keep-away from the Tigers with its patented ball-control, time-consuming run-oriented drives.
Senior tailback Cody Huff, with already 755 yards and 10 touchdowns on 124 carries, will likely see the bulk of the totes again this week.
He amassed 22 carries for 179 yards and two touchdowns last week, including a 66-yard burst on the first play from scrimmage.
“We’re going to run the football, but I think people know that we’re capable of doing some other things too,” said Wolford. “That makes us a little tougher to stop as well.”
But the coach thought the key to victory Friday night would be grounding the Tigers’ aerial assault.
“All in all, I think this is going to be a test for our defense,” said Wolford. “If we can stop them, I’m not sure that they can stop us with the things that we do.”
Marietta hasn’t stopped the Ironmen attack recently, although it’s a whole new ballgame on Friday night.
As for the Ironmen’s bounce-back this week, it’s all a matter of “playing hard as we possibly can and eliminating mistakes,” Wolford explained.
“If we play hard, I think we’ll be fine. It’s one of those things that you just have to play hard and give it all you’ve got,” he said. “If you do that, you have a strong possibility of winning the game. If we don’t, then we’ll find ourselves in another dogfight and like last week, you never know what’s going to happen in the end when you let a team hang around. Hopefully, our kids will be up to the challenge this week.”
Banged up a bit?
Last week’s loss at Gallipolis took its physical toll this week on the Ironmen.
Jackson was dealing with the injury bug a bit this week, although none of the bumps, bites and bruises are considered serious and Wolford expects all of the Ironmen to play at Marietta.
“One crucial thing this week is getting over these injuries,” said Wolford in his weekly media interview following Tuesday’s practice. “We had to cut down practice a little bit tonight, because we have four or five guys we held out with shoulder injuries, leg injuries, etc. It’s mainly precautionary, but we need to get those guys healed up and back ready to play for Friday.”
Another history lesson
Last week’s history lesson involved the date of Sept. 19, 2003.
Jackson entered that week five contest at Gallipolis undefeated, only to lose at Gallia Academy 34-30.
History repeated itself — five years to the day on Friday — as the Blue Devils defeated the Ironmen.
This week’s year in history is 2004, when the Ironmen faced Marietta only a week after losing a 14-13 home heartbreaker to Gallia Academy.
Jackson had entered that matchup at 6-0.
The Tigers promptly added to the Ironmen’s heartbreak, stunning Jackson 52-51 in double overtime.
That has been Marietta’s only win in the series in the last five meetings.
However, history is set up to repeat itself on Friday, only this time, it’s on the road.
It’s the type of history the Ironmen aim to avoid.
Computer still down
For the second straight week, the official release of the Ohio High School Athletic Association computer ratings was suspended.
According to the unofficial rankings, though, on www.joeeitel.com, the Ironmen are eighth in Division II, Region 8 with a 6.4000 average.