NORMAL — The tool that best represents the performance of the Jacksonville High School football team during Friday’s 31-19 victory over University High has to be a grinder.
The Crimsons ground down the Pioneers with 328 rushing yards in Central State Eight Conference action at Hancock Stadium where U High fell to 0-4 overall and in the league while the Crimsons improved to 2-2 and 2-2.
“They are bigger than us and they just wore us out the second half,” said U High coach John Johnson, whose team topped Jacksonville last year, 36-12. “We’ve got about 13 players on defense and we got tired.”
The Crimsons’ burly, 210-pound Chris Pulley gained 170 yards on 25 carries while sidekick Gavin Roegge chipped in 102 yards on 22 carries. They picked up the slack for star running back Tyger Vaniter, who is out for the season with a foot injury.
Jacksonville’s Michael Walker added 55 yards on 10 rushes and Ryan Maul completed 2 of 10 passes for 21 yards.
“Pulley, as a sophomore last year, had a couple games over 200 yards,” said Jacksonville coach Mark Grounds. “The first week of the season, he had an illness. This was the first week where we said ‘there are no restrictions on him for the amount of carries’ so we were going to ride him and we did.”
Cam Barclay completed 11 of 17 passes for 137 yards for U High, which saw Spencer Parker pick up 76 yards on four catches to go with 67 yards on 12 rushes. Savion Jackson, who had a two-TD night, had seven catches for 72 yards while Rashad Wilson chipped in 28 rushing yards.
“I thought Cam played pretty well,” Johnson said. “The first quarter, we didn’t block for him very well. Then we started to block better and he started to hit some people.”
Jacksonville opened the scoring late in the first quarter, driving 80 yards on nine plays with Pulley accounting for the final two yards. Collin Brunstein, who made a 33-yard field goal, added the first of four conversion kicks.
U High answered on the next possession, marching 65 yards on 14 plays topped by a 10-yard TD pass from Barclay to Jackson. The kick failed.
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“(Jackson) is a great athlete and a great player,” Johnson said. “He’s not very big, but he’s dynamic.”
On the ensuing kickoff, the Crimsons made it 14-6 thanks to a 90-yard return by Walker, who enjoyed clear sailing the final 40 yards.
“I thought that was one of those moments that stole momentum back and didn’t allow them to continue to build (momentum),” said Grounds, whose team had six sacks. “We pressured (Barclay) in key situations that allowed us to get off the field.”
U High pulled within 14-12 with 2:11 left in the half when Barclay pitched to Peter Deffenbaugh, who passed 14 yards to Jackson for the score. Matt Davenport’s conversion pass was intercepted by Elijah Owens.
“We’ve got to out-trick people and outsmart people,” Johnson said. “We’re just not big enough up front.”
Jacksonville opened the second half with a 12-play, 74-yard scoring drive topped by Maul’s 4-yard run. After Brunstein’s field goal made it 24-12, teammate Chase Vega intercepted Barclay, setting up a 16-play, 56-yard, clock-eating drive that Roegge finished with a 1-yard TD run.
U High ended the scoring when Deffenbaugh took a direct snap and scored from six yards out with 3:38 left. Wyatt Berg converted the extra point.
“I thought they had a very solid game plan on both sides of the ball that put their kids in a situation where they had a shot at being successful against us,” Grounds said. “I think our kids just wore them out and we made fewer mistakes.”
After the game, Grounds gave a game ball to Lona Jackson, the mother of junior lineman Jaylon Jackson, whose older brother, Alex, passed away this week.