The Grundy County Yellow Jackets found themselves in familiar surroundings last Friday night at Crisp Field. An 18-yard field goal by DeKalb County’s Matthew Poss as time expired sent the Jackets to their second heartbreaking loss in the last three games, 25 – 22.
The Jackets were coming off their open date. It was obvious the rest and extra work had come at a good time. The Jackets, operating from the flexbone, displayed flashes of offensive firepower with a balanced attack using the pass and the run. Sophomore quarterback Hagen Cash was 15 of 23 for 242 yards with one interception that proved to be costly. He also added a few nifty runs to help generate the Jackets best offensive performance of the season.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Jackets put the only points of the first half up on the board with 5:52 remaining in the second quarter. Cash hit senior Kevin Castro for 29 yards and a touchdown. Castro lined up in the slot and made an inside move on the defender and Cash hit him in stride down the right hash mark for the score. Cash then hit Josh Wingo in the left flat and he slipped into the end zone for the conversion and the Jackets led 8 – 0 at intermission.
The Jackets offense controlled the ball in the third quarter limiting the Tigers to four offensive plays. Even though the Jackets had the ball almost the entire quarter, the tough luck hosts gave up a 94-yard pick six on fourth and goal from the Tiger six yard line. The conversion run tied the score at 8 – 8. The Jackets had driven from their own seven yard line to the Tiger six in 14 plays.
Following a 34-yard return of the Tigers’ ensuing kickoff by senior James McDaniel, it took the Jackets just two plays to take the lead back. Castro took the pitch from Cash, stepped inside a defender, received a great block from Wingo, and set sail for paydirt. The conversion pass failed and the Jackets took a 14 – 8 lead into the final stanza.
After an electrifying final two minutes of the third quarter, the fourth quarter would provide the devastating heartbreak for the Jackets.
The quarter started with a quick three and out by the Tigers, followed by the Jackets doing the same. After the Tigers moved inside Yellow Jacket territory on their next possession, Cash stepped in front of a Tiger aerial, snagged the pigskin at his own 36, and raced 43 yards to the Tiger 21. A block in the back penalty put the Jackets in business at the DeKalb County 31 yard line.
Four plays later Cash kept the ball on the option to the right and sprinted into the end zone from 11 yards out for the TD. Cash then hit freshman Evan Nunley on the two point conversion and the Jackets led 22 – 8.
The Tigers would not go away. They moved 65 yards in six plays to pull within one score. A five-yard touchdown pass and a PAT kick made the score 22 – 15.
After a failed onside kick where the Tigers touched the ball illegally before it went ten yards, the Jackets had the ball at the Tiger 49. The Tigers forced a quick three and out and forced a Jacket punt. The Jacket punt was fielded by the Tigers at their own 18 and returned to their own 23. On the first play, a completion to a Tiger receiver who zig-zagged the middle of the field before getting a great block at midfield to spring him loose down the left sidelines to pull the Tigers within a point. The PAT was good and the score was knotted at 22 – 22 with just a little less than two minutes left in regulation.
With the Tiger kickoff skipping into the end zone, the Jackets put the ball in play at their own 20-yard line. Cash hit Castro in the right flat and after a couple of broken tackles, he scampered down the sidelines for 42 yards down to the Tiger 38. On the next play, Cash couldn’t connect with fellow sophomore Ethan Nunley who was behind the Tiger defenders at the goal line with a great effort by both young men. The Jackets couldn’t convert on the next two plays and the Tigers took over at their own 40.
After an incompletion on a long pass down field on the first play, the Tigers connected over the middle and the receiver was tripped up by a diving Ethan Nunley at the one-yard line with :01.9 left on the clock. The Tigers spiked the ball to stop the clock at :00.7 left in the game. That set the stage for Poss’s heroics with the game winning kick and the 25 – 22 win.
The Jacket rushing attack was led by McDaniel with 54 yards in 13 carries. Castro had 54 yards on his lone carry that resulted in a touchdown. Cash had 35 yards on 10 carries. Wingo added 30 yards on eight carries. Freshman Evan Nunley had a great night on the receiving end with 89 yards on five catches. Wingo added 60 yards on five catches, while Castro had 82 yards on four catches.
Defensively, the Jackets were led by Dewayne Grooms from his linebacker spot with nine tackles. Seniors Zachary Layne and Matt Burrows added five stops. Cash added the INT.
Head Coach Casey Tate was obviously disappointed with the outcome, but not the effort of his team. He had this to say. “It was a tough loss, but it takes a special group of young men to continue to fight the way this group has in spite of the losing record. It would be easy to hang it up and just hit cruise control, but they continue to work on improving and continue to play hard each week. We will move on to the next game and continue to work on improving.”
The Jackets hit the road tomorrow night as they make the long trek to Jamestown, to tackle the Dragons of York Institute. Game time is 7 p.m. The playoffs are still not out of reach. If these young men keep battling, good things will come.