Can lightning strike twice for the Jackson High School football team? The last time the Ironmen were a heavy home underdog to Chillicothe, Jackson surprised everyone and crushed the Cavalierss 42-15.
Paul Boggs checks in with a look at the Week 8 match up.
JACKSON — Can lightning strike twice for the Jackson High School football team?
The last time the Ironmen were a heavy home underdog to Chillicothe,
Jackson surprised everyone and crushed the Cavalierss 42-15.
Although not perceived as overwhelming an underdog this week, the Ironmen have just a tall a task in defeating favored Chillicothe.
And, if this year’s Ironmen are to reach the Division II, Region 8 playoffs, then it’s now-or-never on Friday night at Alumni Stadium.
“If we have any dreams of a postseason at all, we have to get this game,” said Jackson coach Shane Wolford. “No question about it.”
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. as Jackson concludes the regular season with three straight home dates.
While undefeated Logan and Southeastern Ohio Athletic League lame-duck Zanesville are on deck respectively, the Ironmen are facing arguably their toughest test to date against Chillicothe.
In fact, the majority of the area prognosticators are picking the Cavaliers this week.
“We’re coming in with the same record, it’s a big game for both teams, and I’m sure they are heavily-favored. But we’ve ran into teams that are heavily-favored before,” said Wolford. “In my four years as the head coach, we’ve been the underdog in so many games that it’s become a situation that we’re used to.”
Both teams enter at 5-2 overall, but the Cavaliers have captured four straight while the Ironmen have lost two out of their last three — and on the road.
After a difficult loss at Gallipolis three weeks ago, the Ironmen were handled at Ironton 54-6.
It was a night in which little-to-nothing went right for the Red and White.
The Fighting Tigers tallied almost 500 rushing yards, and scored the first 54 points of the game before Jackson’s Derrick Meredith returned a kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown.
Jackson’s patented rushing attack was held to just 85 yards, as the Ironmen suffered a major blow on the game’s first play from scrimmage.
Senior tailback Cody Huff suffered an injury and did not return, leaving the Ironmen without easily their leading rusher and starting linebacker.
“Cody went down on the first play of the game. From there, we were able to get a couple of first downs and that was it,” said Wolford. “We really couldn’t move anyone up front. We didn’t have any success throwing the football either, and defensively, we couldn’t stop what Ironton was doing. It was hard to stomach, really.”
Wolford said his team was the victim of a “physical beating” by the Fighting Tigers.
“There’s really no way to describe it other than that,” he added.
Indeed, the brutal SEOAL schedule demands that teams play extremely physical in order to be successful.
Schemes can only accomplish so much, Wolford said, as physicality is his club’s top priority this week.
“I’ve tried to express to our guys that no schemes or anything like that are going to work if you are not out there hitting,” he said. “Everyone around here learned at a very young age that the name of the game is hitting. If we don’t hit, nothing matters what we draw up on a board. I’ve challenged our kids to be physical this week. Football is, a lot of times, who wants it more and who is going to hit more and be more physical. If we’re physical, then we’ll see what happens.”
What happens this week could be what happened two years ago when Chillicothe came calling with a 5-1 overall record, superior team speed, and definitely a lot of hype.
The Ironmen, on the other hand, stood 2-3 after back-to-back difficult losses to Ironton and Portsmouth, trying to figure out a way just to save the season.
They did just that by clobbering Chillicothe, keeping the Cavaliers’ prolific offense off the field minus 25 plays.
Jackson ran the ball, and the clock, at will against the Cavs, and shocked all of Southeastern Ohio with a 42-15 rout.
“Two years ago, we were sitting in the same situation,” said Wolford. “People weren’t giving us a chance, but we went out and were more physical than them and we won the game.”
It was the shot-in-the-arm the Ironmen needed, as the team finished 4-1 in the second half of the season and qualified for the Division III, Region 12 playoffs.
At that time, Chillicothe was a Division II school, but now the two programs are reversed in divisions.
In fact, Chillicothe checks in at fifth in this week’s Region 12 of the Ohio High School Athletic Association computer ratings.
The Ironmen, meanwhile, slipped to 11th this week in Division II, Region 8.
Realistically, a loss on Friday would doom Jackson’s playoff hopes.
But, a win would certainly replenish the energy that was lost in the Ironton affair.
Like two years ago, Chillicothe comes into Jackson riding a four-game winning streak, and again with standout quarterback Caleb Knights.
Knights, now a senior, is already an all-Ohio signal-caller and the school’s all-time leading passer.
Through seven games this season, Knights has completed 61 passes on 110 attempts for 665 yards and six scores.
He is also the team’s second-leading rusher, with 624 yards and seven touchdowns on 97 carries.
He will be making his 34th career start under center on Friday.
The Ironmen have faced Knights twice already, so they should know what to expect with his ability, Wolford said.
“Caleb Knights is a special player and an all-around athlete,” he said. “He has speed, he can throw the ball around. You have to account for him at all times. We’ve got to get to the football and have multiple people getting to him. A lot of times, one man isn’t going to be able to make the tackle because he is so shifty. You just have to get to him and put a helmet on him. That’s the only way to defend a guy like him.”
The Cavaliers have also defeated the two teams which Jackson did not — Ironton two weeks ago and Gallipolis last week.
Both games were at Chillicothe, though, as the Cavaliers blanked Gallipolis 41-0.
Chillicothe’s lone losses were the season-opener at Division I power Columbus Brookhaven and to undefeated Sheridan.
Sheridan, incidentally, is the top-rated team in Region 12.
Besides Knights, the Cavaliers also rely heavily on Eric Young, a senior who opted to play this year.
Young leads the Cavs in both rushing (801 yards and five touchdowns on 126 carries) and receiving (218 yards on 19 receptions).
Receiver Ron Smith is also a top target of the dangerous Knights, having caught 17 passes for 270 yards.
While Knights can both run and throw, his front line averages 266 pounds per man, and all are at least second-year starters.
And that doesn’t include what’s known as the “Jumbo” package, in which two fullbacks line up in the backfield.
“There’s no question that Chillicothe is good,” said Wolford. “They have a good tailback and they have good receivers. They are athletic everywhere, they are big and strong and physical and they are going to be tough to stop.”
But Jackson did stop the Cavaliers two years ago by playing keep-away and executing ball-control, clock-consuming drives.
This isn’t the first time that the run-oriented Ironmen have had this general gameplan.
However, it may be the first without Huff.
Wolford said Huff suffered a sprained neck, and listed him as questionable when asked about his status on Tuesday.
Huff did not practice with the team that day.
“Cody was scheduled to see the doctor (Wednesday), and they are telling him that if everything looks okay, he could play,” said Wolford. “It’s probably 50-50 on whether or not he will be playing. There’s no question we are a different team with Cody Huff.”
Indeed the Ironmen are.
With his one carry for 24 yards at Ironton, Huff hit the 900-yard rushing mark for the season.
He has 146 carries, along with 11 touchdowns.
If Huff can not play, the Ironmen may incorporate a tailback-by-committee.
Although, the bulk of the carries could fall to sophomore fullback Klay Arthur, who has 322 yards and four scores on 84 rushes.
“We’ve got to have other people step up and fill that void if Cody is not in there,” said Wolford. “We couldn’t get anything going offensively against Ironton after he left the game. We’ve got to have people willing to step in and make plays, and we’ll do whatever we can to win the game. If we’re running the ball and it’s working, that’s what we want to do. That would be the ideal strategy, but without Cody, we might have to do different things.”
But Wolford kept emphasizing the main difference this week from last: being physical.
“In years past, we’ve done a lot of special gimmick defenses and things like that, but none of it will help you if you are not going to be physical,” he said. “Our biggest thing is if we’re hitting. I felt like last week that we didn’t fight. We have got to give it everything we’ve got and be willing to fight like Jackson Ironmen do. I know our kids are capable of it. If we go out and fight, we can win this game. There is no question in my mind.”
SEOAL chances R…
While the Ironmen need a win to realistically keep their playoff hopes alive, the game is also Jackson’s last stand as far as the SEOAL championship is concerned.
The Ironmen are 2-2 in the league, but Logan and Chillicothe are both undefeated — and on a collision course for an undisputed conference crown in the regular-season finale.
Jackson must win out and have both Logan and Chillicothe lose once more in order to forge a share.
Jackson faces Logan next week.
The Ironmen’s last league title came in 1998, when they shared the championship with Logan.
A Jackson win on Friday would give the Ironmen four victories in their last five meetings with Chillicothe.
The Cavaliers lead the all-time series 30-11-2, as the two schools renewed their series two years ago in Chillicothe’s first year in the SEOAL.
Jackson won that meeting, as well as the final two before two years back — 1973 and 1974.
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Information from The Chillicothe Gazette and www.chillicothecavaliers.com was used in this story.