BELOIT — Joey Jackson wears uniform No. 1 for the West Branch Warriors. Friday night against Girard, he was the one.
Jackson scored five touchdowns, including one defensively, to lead the Warriors (2-1) past Girard (2-1) 52-43 at Clinton Heacock Stadium.
This one was a textbook definition of a shootout. Or perhaps it redefined the team.
Two of the best quarterbacks in Division IV, Beau Alazaus of West Branch and the Indians’ Tuff McConahy, combined to complete 61 of 101 passes for 786 yards and 12 touchdowns. Five receivers had 97 yards or more.
Stephen Sims of Girard caught eight balls for 144 yards and three TDs. Nick Rafferty had six catches for 125 yards and two scores.
But, at the end of the night, with the Warriors taking a knee inside the Girard 5-yard line, it was Jackson, who set school records with 15 catches (for 208 yards), his five total TDs, and he tied the school record with four receiving TDs.
“Girard is really good,” said Jackson. “Their quarterback, we compared him to Beau. But we knew, if we could win this game, it would [potentially] give us another home playoff game.”
Jackson’s two signature plays came in the span of less than four minutes in the third quarter.
West Branch trailed 28-22 with just over seven minutes remaining when Jackson took a pitch from Alazaus and sprinted to the right side of the field. Seeing no opening, he reversed field, got a nice block from his quarterback, and sprinted — essentially untouched — to the end zone. The conversion failed, tying the score, but with 3:44 remaining, Jackson stepped in front of a McConahy pass at the WB 27 along the Girard sideline and headed for the goal line.
“My coaches told me I was backpedaling too fast,” Jackson said. “On that play, I read the quarterback’s eyes and made the play.”
McConahy seemingly had Jackson hemmed in at about the 20, but Jackson deked left, then back right, and scored with 3:44 to play.
“He’s faster than I would have given him credit for,” Jackson said of McConahy.
The Indians eventually regained the lead 35-34, but West Branch scored on the first play of the fourth quarter – an Alazaus to Jackson 15-yard pass, then added a safety, a field goal and another TD pass to lead 52-35 with 6:11 to go.
Girard scored 36 seconds later but West Branch recovered an onside kick and ran out the clock.
“Our first two games we were playing into the fourth quarter,” said West Branch coach Tim Cooper. “So the kids have been there. We knew our competition was really good but we took it just one play at a time.”
Alazaus was 32-for-50 for 370 yards and six TDs (which tied a school record). Anthony Perry had 12 catches for 97 yards and Boston Mulinix – who rushed for over 200 yards in a win at Woodridge last weekend – had 79 yards rushing on 20 carries.
“The kids played really hard and I’m proud of them,” said Girard coach Pat Pearson. “But we have to play smarter. We made too many mental mistakes.”
McConahy finished 29-for-51 for 416 yards and six TDs. But the Indians turned the ball over five times and were penalized 12 times for 130 yards.
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