Rise and Shine: Jaguars Deliver in OT to Upend Wall
JACKSON - Adversity can tell a lot about the soul of a football team simply by the two options it presents. Either succumb to a rash of misfortunes and the subsequent temptation to wallow in pity or remedied it with a strong dose of resiliency that could potentially define the essence of what you’re made of.
There was never a doubt Jackson Memorial would opt for the latter. Grit is a requirement of a Jaguar, a rite of passage that merits the honor of donning the red and black. Tough breaks make thicker skin and forge the steely resolve to be judged upon.
Stuffed by a rigid Wall defense on a pair of short fourth-down bids that halted threatening drives in the first half and forced to regroup after a fumble return by junior Colin McCarthy for a go-ahead touchdown with under three minutes showing in regulation was waved off, Jackson Memorial was on the brink of a tipping point. Just how much could it overcome against an opponent that mirrored so many of its own finest qualities?
Short-yardage woes were neutralized by short-term memory. The sting of McCarthy’s dash being erased offset by the length in a crowded backfield rotation and the brawn of those paving their paths. Sprinkle in a dash of relentless, unyielding defense and Jackson Memorial had enough answers at critical points to outlast equally-stubborn Wall for a dramatic 12-6 overtime triumph on Friday night at soggy Jack Munley Field.
“You learn about heart and toughness under conditions like these,” said Jackson Memorial Vin Mistretta of intangibles illuminated amid trying times, including a muddy track that made offensive artistry difficult to accomplish.
What the outcome confirmed is something Mistretta has known about his cast for quite some time. When in need of a big play under pressure, he has no shortage of players eagerly lined up to embrace the moment.
Jackson (2-0, 2-0) was stuck in catch-up mode for a good portion of the evening before junior Justin Burkert booted his second field goal of the contest, a 24-yarder with 56.2 ticks showing in third, to even matters at 6-6.
McCarthy appeared to snap the deadlock with 2:16 left in the fourth. When an errant snap on a Wall punt rolled free, the 6-6, 220-pounder, who was a force working both side of scrimmage along the point of contact, scooped up the loose ball and raced 47 yards untouched. However, the referees convened and ruled the ball was downed by contact when the punter briefly touched it while on the ground.
“I crossed the goal line and I thought that won us the game right there,” admitted McCarthy, an effective run stopper in the defensive front and a key component teamed with seniors Sean Sharo, Eric Vilacoba and Jerry Russel, along with junior Sean Laverty, on the offensive line. “When we came over to the sideline, coach asked who was going to make a play...who was gonna get us a score?”
Despite failing to capitalize on the field position and turning the ball over on downs with under a minute remaining in the fourth, Jackson Memorial maintained the momentum sparked by McCarthy and carried it into overtime. Promising sophomore running back Will Towns, who finished with a game-high 74 yards on 16 carries, covered 18 on four hauls, junior Jake McKown gained six more and junior fullback Michael Fiore capped the six-play drive, plowing his way just beyond the goal line from a yard out, burrowing in behind Sharo for the decisive score.
“I was a little surprised to hear my number called,” said Fiore, who had just two touches in the game. “I thought it might go to Will with me and Nic Ford leading his way. I was hyped to get the ball with the game on the line.”
Fiore may have been an unlikely selection to get the ball on the game’s most critical play from an outside perspective, but the decision was an easy one for Mistretta, based on his faith in his bruising style suited for a goal-line package and the fierce competitive streak of Sharo, the center and anchor of the offensive line.
“I trust Mike in that spot because he’ll battle to find the end zone, but it’s more about that o-line,” said Mistretta. “I told Sean he owed me two for the missed chances in the first half. He is the unsung hero of that offensive line. The center and the guard double teamed on the nose, got the push and got us in.”
“After Colin’s TD got called back, I pulled coach aside and told him I got you,” shared Sharo. “We didn’t convert those two fourth downs in the first half and that wasn’t going to happen again. To see our unit come together in a big spot was great. We may not be the biggest o-line, but we work the hardest.”
Jackson’s work was not done. On its ensuing possession, Wall (1-1. 1-1) moved to the Jackson 9, but senior linebacker Hunter Rose stamped the triumph, charging in from the blind side to drop Wall quarterback Dylan Richey on fourth and goal.
“When it became time to step up, everyone did their job,” noted Rose. “Fourth quarter, overtime…that’s when you’ve gotta make plays and that’s when we really shine.”