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JCC advances to sectional football finals

JACKSON --- Talk about overcoming adversity. After having five offensive possessions stalled by coughing up the football on a fumble and seemingly having the momentum -- and the lead shift Tri-City United's way, Jackson County Central reclaimed c...

JCC Vs TCU web.jpg
JCC's Elijah Meium-Bratrud (20) follows Keldon Bennett (56) on a sweep and outruns Tri-City United's Mateo Alonso (10) and Steve Miller (74) in Section 3AAA Football tournament play in Jackson Saturday. (Tim Middagh / The Globe)

JACKSON -- Talk about overcoming adversity.

After having five offensive possessions stalled by coughing up the football on a fumble and seemingly having the momentum - and the lead  shift Tri-City United’s way, Jackson County Central reclaimed control of the line-of-scrimmage and scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns to earn a hard-fought 30-9 victory over the Titans in the Section 3AAA high school football semifinals at Swearingen Field Saturday afternoon.

“It’s not often that you can win a game against a good team when you flip the ball over to them five times,” said a relieved JCC head coach Tom Schuller after realizing his team had prevailed and would be practicing next week for a seventh consecutive sectional championship game. “We fumbled six times and lost five of them, but our guys pulled it off, which seems somewhat miraculous.”

That miraculous response to adversity began with three minutes left in the third quarter after the Titans had scored their only touchdown, tied the game with a perfect extra-point kick and had tackled the Huskies in the end zone for a safety, giving them a two-point lead (9-7) two minutes earlier.

Following the safety, TCU returned the kick to midfield. But as they had done almost the entire game, the Huskies came through with a four-play defensive stop and forced the Titans to punt for a fifth time.

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“Our defense was rock solid,” praised Schuller. “Other than that one drive --- following our fifth lost fumble --- we didn’t give up much. Our front four put the pressure on, our linebackers made tackles and our secondary covered very well. It was a total team defensive effort, which kept us in the game despite all of our turnovers.”

Things, however, appeared to still be going TCU’s way as Joseph Nading’s punt was downed by the Titans inside the Huskies 1-yard line and JCC was pinned down near the goal line again.

Buhl recharges JCC’s ground game with several big runs JCC’s Bradley Buhl, a rugged 190-pound junior running back, snapped off a tackle-breaking eight-yard run to get the Huskies out of the hole. That play triggered a sustained 11-play, 99- yard drive which chewed up the rest of the quarter.

Switching ends of the field, the Huskies found themselves right back at the same spot where the go-ahead drive started, and Buhl crossed the goal line on the first play of the fourth quarter with a one-yard plunge over right guard Andrew Hesebeck to put JCC back ahead. Buhl powered in for the two-point conversion run behind the block of right tackle Eli Edlin and the Huskies had a 15-9 lead.

“That drive was huge,” summed up Schuller about those three minutes. “Wade Wacker, our offensive coordinator, mixed in some passing plays with several effective runs and we moved the ball - without fumbling - from one end to the other, as our offensive line did a great job.”

A 10-yard run by Elijah Meium-Bratrud, a 23-yard pass completion from Rudy Voss to Dalton Henning, a six-yard scamper by Voss - with a 15-yard late-hit penalty tacked on - and a 12- yard pass play from Voss to Keaton Storm were other big plays in the drive, along with a 16- yard run by Buhl which put the ball at the one.

With momentum back on its side, JCC’s defense came with a stop on fourth-and-two at the Huskies’ 33-yard line, as linebackers Zach Neal and Buhl converged on TCU’s ball carrier, ending a 10-play 28-yard drive with a two-yard loss.

“That was really big for us,” Schuller declared. “Our defense made a statement and got us the ball back, keeping all of our guys - and our crowd - really fired up.”

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Buhl, who finished the game with 129 yards rushing on 20 carries, broke free up the middle on a 27-yard gain and the Huskies were again in Titans’ territory. A nine-yard run by Meium- Bratrud on a sweep to the right gave JCC a first down at the TCU 25. After a good fake to Neal, Voss ran 17 yards on an option keeper to the left and the Huskies were first-and-goal at the 8-yard line.

Buhl followed a strong seven-yard burst with another one-yard TD surge through the right side of the JCC line, capping a seven-play drive which covered 65 yards (all on the ground) as the offensive line - Keldon Bennett, Sam Dunker, Kaleb Bents, Hesebeck and Edlin - controlled the line of scrimmage.

The Huskies stretched the lead to 23-9 with a successful two-point conversion to the right as Jack Brinkman streaked to the end zone after taking an option pitch from Voss.

Another defensive stand by the Huskies forced a four-and-out by the Titans, giving JCC the ball at the TCU 46-yard line with exactly five minutes left. A nine-yard run by Meium-Bratrud and a six-yard surge by Neal gave JCC its 18th first down of the game, and the Huskies continued to take command. After a couple of short runs, Voss tossed an option pitch left to Henning, who completed an 18- yard run and gave the Huskies a first down at the TCU 9. Once again, Buhl picked up seven yards with a powerful run and then scored his third touchdown of the fourth quarter - on a two-yard plunge to the left between Bennett and Dunker - with 2:41 remaining in the game. Storm’s extra-point kick (with Bennett snapping and Brinkman holding) was perfect, extending the lead to 30-9.

A pass deflection by Dunker, a near interception by Brinkman and an open-field tackle by Nathaniel Post were among JCC’s defensive plays during TCU’s final drive, which the Huskies ended with a pass interception by Damien Meyer-Andre at the one-yard line.

Voss, who completed 12-of-20 passes for 128 yards, took a knee twice and the game ended with the Huskies scoring the last 23 points and advancing to the section finals for a fourth consecutive clash against the top-seeded Fairmont Cardinals.

Voss to Stubbe touchdown pass caps first-half drive JCC had the ball seven times in the first half and moved the chains for 11 first downs, but fumbles killed four of those drives and the Huskies punted once (after a three-and-out opening drive) and were stopped once on downs.

JCC’s successful drive - its second - covered 68 yards on 11 plays and was capped by a 24-yard catch (over the middle) and run by junior tight end Matthew Stubbe with 4:57 on the first- quarter clock. Storm’s kick gave the Huskies a quick 7-0 lead. After that JCC had an eight-play, 24-yard drive end with a fumble at the TCU 19 and a five-play, 32-yard march end with a fumble at the TCU 41. A two-play 17-yard drive was stopped with a fumble at the TCU 40, and a seven-play 36-yard drive ended with a fumble after a first down was earned.

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The Titans, who defeated Worthington (54-20) in the quarterfinals at Montgomery last Tuesday, finished with a 5-5 overall record. TCU had only one first down in the first half, that coming on a first-quarter 50-yard pass play down the middle of the field.

Switching to the wishbone offense, the Titans had success in the third quarter, grinding out three consecutive first downs on their way to completing a nine-play, 48-yard drive - aided by JCC’s only penalty of the game - finding the end zone with 5:46 on the clock. The unfavorable field position and TCU’s two-point safety followed before the Huskies marched 99 yards on 11 plays and resumed control.

Meium-Bratrud gained 81 yards rushing on 14 carries for the Huskies, who racked up a total of 254 yards on the ground. TCU rushed for 102 yards - most of them coming on two second-half Drives - and gained 117 yards through the air, completing just eight of 29 pass attempts as JCC’s coverage was superb.

The Huskies will take a 9-1 record into Friday’s (Nov. 2) championship game at New Ulm, while Fairmont is 8-1 after defeating St. Peter (21-12) in Saturday’s other semifinal following a first-round bye. JCC defeated the Cardinals in the section finals in both 2015 and 2016, but Fairmont won last year. Game time is 7 p.m. with the winner advancing to the state tournament quarterfinals.

“We cut down our penalties, now we need to reduce our turnovers,” concluded Schuller. “It should another great football game between two old rivals.”

TCU 0 0 9 0 --- 9JCC 7 0 0 23 --- 30  

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