Jackson football faces familiar foe Vianney in district final
When Jackson football steps onto the field Friday night, the Indians will be squaring off with a familiar foe, one that ended their season last fall.
It will be the ninth meeting between St. John Vianney and Jackson since 2012, and the fifth in the Class 5 District 1 tournament. During that span, Jackson leads the series 5-3 but fell to Vianney twice last season, including a 49-14 loss in the first round of districts. Before that defeat, Jackson had ended the Golden Griffins' season the three previous campaigns.
Despite that recent history, the two teams won't be as familiar with each as in years past. For the first time since 2012, the Indians and Golden Griffins didn't play each other in the regular season this year.
Still, with so many meetings in the last five seasons, the matchup is beginning to morph into a rivalry, and this year's district final, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. today at The Pit, adds more intrigue as top-seeded Jackson will attempt to claim its third district crown in four years.
"The kids are a little bit familiar with one another," Jackson coach Brent Eckley said. "Whenever everything's at stake, it can quickly become a rivalry -- that's for sure."
The two teams met in the district final in 2013 and 2014 with the Indians prevailing both times, including a 39-35 decision in the latter contest in which the Indians rallied from a 32-point deficit at halftime and stunned the Golden Griffins. But last fall, Vianney defeated Jackson 52-28 in the second game of the season and followed that up weeks later with a playoff win, though the Indians were hampered by numerous injuries, Eckley said.
The third-seeded Golden Griffins return a number of starters from that team, including quarterback Tionne Harris and wide receiver Cam Coleman. That duo has a combined 21 touchdowns this season. Harris has thrown for 1,788 yards with 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions and is the team's leading rusher with 1,060 yards, according to stltoday.com. Coleman, a sophomore, leads the team in catches (57), receiving yards (771) and receiving TDs (five).
That duo is complemented by running back Mickey Morrell (862 combined yards rushing and receiving) and wide receiver Kyren Williams (656 combined yards).
"We're fairly familiar with them because we've played them a bunch of times over the last two years," Eckley said. "I'm pretty good friends with their head coach, so we've got a pretty good idea of what they're doing, and how they run their program and whatnot."
The Indians defense, led by senior defensive back Payne Guilliams (team-high 69 tackles and three interceptions), will be tasked with stopping an offense that scored 56 last week in a 35-point win over Poplar Bluff. Jackson is coming off a 56-35 win over Rockwood Summit in the district semifinals.
Guilliams' three interceptions is tied for second on the team with senior Quentin Kent, as Cole Welker leads the Indians with four picks and 12 pass breakups.
Led by senior Nick Freeman and his team-high six sacks, the Indians defensive line will have its hands full against Vianney's rushing attack. Eckley said the Indians will need to tighten up on crucial plays.
"Red zone offense and defense will both be very important just because they're a heavier team, especially on offense, and they're kind of set up to be good in short yardage," Eckley said. "We're going to have to be really good in short-yardage situations in the red zone if we want to match them."
Forcing the Golden Griffins into negative plays on first down will help prevent the Indians from getting into those short-yardage situations, Eckley said. Linebacker Nathan Brown leads the team with 13 tackles for loss.
Last week, Vianney limited a high-octane Poplar Bluff offense to a season-low 21 points. The Mules' previous low came in Jackson's 41-27 win in Week 6. The Indians, whose season-low point total is 28, produced 745 yards of offense against Rockwood Summit and were led by Cooper Callis' 460 passing yards. The junior had five TDs through the air, and Kent had 10 catches for 195 yards and a touchdown. His younger brother, Jordan, hauled in four TD receptions on 9 catches for 162 yards. Vianney's secondary presents an interesting challenge for the Indians' passing attack, though.
"They're very physical up front," Eckley said. "Defensive line does an outstanding job. They've got a couple good, fast athletic linebackers. Then the secondary, they rotated their secondary post-snap, so it makes the offense play just a little bit slower."
After a litany of contests with the Golden Griffins in recent years, Eckley has a good idea of the task the Indians are up against as they look to reclaim district bragging rights.
"They're a very physical team up front," Eckley said. "They're very athletic. We would expect them to be a very strong challenge."