For the first time in program history on Friday night, the Jackson football team won the SEMO North Conference Championship three years in a row outright by defeating conference as well as Class 5 District 1 opponent Farmington 56-14 at The Pit. The Indians have three-peated as conference champions before (2003-05), but they shared the title with Cape Central and Poplar Bluff in 2003.
This matchup happened to be between two undefeated ranked teams as Jackson was voted as No. 3 in Class 5 while the Knights were five spots behind them at No. 8.
“Big win,” Jackson head coach Brent Eckley said. “Farmington is a proud program, and I think they’re well coached and play physical. There’s a reason why they were undefeated and ranked. They’ve got good players, and I’m really proud of our guys and the way we played.”
Farmington was able to be the first team to take a lead over Jackson all season as the Knights senior quarterback Kaden Files broke off a 59-yard run, which led him to scoring a 1-yard touchdown run six plays later.
This gave Farmington a 6-0 lead over Jackson with eight minutes and five seconds left in the first quarter. However, Jackson was able to score 35-unanswered points after the fact.
The Knights maintained their lead for 25 seconds as Indians senior running back Daniel Dickerson scored from six yards out followed by a successful extra point from junior kicker Logan Bruns with 7:45 left in the first quarter. This score came right after a 49-yard catch and run by senior tight end Rhet Liley off a pass from senior quarterback Cael Welker.
Offensively, Jackson showed off its efficiency in the game as the Indians scored all five of their touchdowns in the first half on just 12 plays from scrimmage.
“We were really sharp, and I thought we competed up front well,” Coach Eckley said. “[Welker] made good decisions, and our receivers did a good job working on blocking the perimeter and then getting open off of that. Some of our play-action stuff was good. We had short fields, so we had some two to three-play drives.”
The Indians scored their second touchdown after the defense forced one of its eight three-and-outs of the game. Jackson scored in two plays for the second-straight drive as Welker connected with junior wide receiver Kannen Turley, who was wide open, for a 50-yard touchdown.
Welker and Turley hooked up for two more scores in the game as Kannen led all receivers with five catches for 112 yards and his three touchdown grabs. Turley’s first cousin, Liley, finished second in receiving behind him with 58 yards and a touchdown on two receptions.
Liley’s second and final reception besides his 49-yard gain in the first quarter was near the end of the third on a 9-yard catch out of the backfield from Welker for the score. This touchdown gave Jackson a 49-14 lead.
Welker finished the game 13-of-17 (76.4 completion percentage) for 230 yards and four touchdowns while once again not throwing an interception. Welker nor backup quarterback junior Cameron Marchi have thrown an interception all season.
Welker also scored once on the ground by breaking off a 25-yard touchdown run for Jackson’s final score of the first half, which made it 35-6 with 7:10 left until halftime.
“It’s just kind of what I expect out of [Welker],” Coach Eckley said. “He was really sharp again, and he threw the ball well. His timing in the pocket was really good — he does a great job escaping and takes care of the football. It’s another good game for him, and he makes a huge difference for our team.”
Farmington scored its final touchdown of the game following Welker’s touchdown run as senior running back Braden Botkin broke off an 82-yard run, which later resulted in a 1-yard score by Botkin himself.
Along with being efficient, the Indians were also balanced on offense as they finished with 205 total rushing yards (7.3 yards per rush) as four different players scored on the ground.
Leading the rushing attack was sophomore running back Tony Williams as he gained 95 yards on nine attempts and scored in the second quarter. Williams had missed the last two games after dislocating his shoulder against Cape Central back in Week 4.
Finishing behind Williams in rushing was Dickerson as he gained 53 yards on only eight carries along with his one score, while fourth-string running back junior Joshua Wehrenberg picked up 30 yards and scored a touchdown on five carries in the fourth quarter.
Leading Jackson’s defense was none other than senior inside linebacker Bryce Norman, who recorded a game-high 21 tackles with two being tackles for a loss. Pacing him for the most tackles happened to be his best friend and fellow senior inside linebacker Randol McDowell, who finished with 18 stops and two TFLs of his own.
Overall, Jackson’s defense allowed Farmington to total 195 yards of offense — all rushing — as 149 of those came off two plays. Botkin finished with a game-high 113 yards and his one score on 15 carries.
One of the reasons why the Knights were able to have success was by having their offensive line stand one foot apart instead of four to six feet apart like it has been all season. Coach Eckley said this is something Farmington has not shown all year.
“[McDowell and Norman] were super active and physical,” Eckley said. “They ran down a lot of stuff. I thought our defensive line wasn’t really consistent, but at times they were dominant. Other times I thought they left a little bit too much space, and that’s what we saw on film.
“It’s a tough offense to play against because [their offensive line] didn’t stay foot to foot. They started varying and moving around a little bit, so you have to change gears for that. It made it tough for our lineman, but I thought they played hard.”
Finishing third in tackles was junior outside linebacker Ryley Styer with eight along with two stops in the backfield, while he also forced a fumble. Defensive backs senior cornerback Dimechi Herring and junior safety Flint Guilliams each had five tackles of their own.
The Indians had all of their starting defensive backs healthy in a game where Farmington only threw the ball twice as junior safety Carson Hartlein deflected one of those passes and registered four stops.
Jackson (7-0) will travel for its Week 8 game against Cardinal Ritter (0-1), which kicked off the season last Friday night in a 38-14 loss to Francis Howell.