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  • Writer's pictureRoger Sims, Journal Staff

Jayhawks defeat Blu-Jays in defensive battle

Jayhawk Garrett Seely dodges a tackle as he scrambles downfield. Seely's ability to escape Blu-Jay defenders was crucial to the 'Hawks' ground game. (Photos by Roger Sims/Linn County Journal)

gave the Blu-Jay defensePLEASANTON – The battle of the two top teams in the 11-man football bracket of the Three Rivers League was the contest most observers expected last Friday, Oct. 7.

Both Pleasanton and Jayhawk-Linn high school teams brought perfect records against league rivals into the game, with only Pleasanton suffering a loss to Olpe earlier in the season.

Before the game, Pleasanton coach Caleb Hendricks said the game would be a contest of the Pleasanton Blu-Jays’ stingy defense and the Jayhawks’ explosive offense. As it turned out, defense played a major role for both teams.

With the league championship on the line, and the prospect of the winner playing mostly home games as the teams opened district play this Friday, there was a lot for both teams to lose.

With the schools only a few miles apart, Jayhawk fans overflowed the visitors’ bleachers in the stadium at Pleasanton. Pleasanton fans showed up in numbers to support their team as well. And student cheering sections for both schools yelled back and forth at each other during the game.

At the end of the game, it was the Jayhawks who would walk away with a 20-6 win and the league championship.

Blu-Jay quarterback Dale Gillespie looks for a receiver as Jayhawk Ethan Ranes chases him out of the pocket.

The Jayhawks scored first after the initial Blu-Jay drive stalled out on the Jayhawk 9 yard line. On the second play of the Jayhawk’s possession, ‘Hawks quarterback Dylan Nickelson connected with wide receiver Garrett Seely with a pass behind the line of scrimmage.

Seely scrambled through a wave of Pleasanton defenders and found room to run 74 yards for a touchdown. The pass for the 2-point conversion was incomplete, but the Jayhawks were on the scoreboard, 6-0.

On their next possession, the Blu-Jays moved the ball nearly 40 yards on seven plays, including a 23 yard pass from quarterback Cam Staton to Hayden Johnson, but stalled out at the Jayhawk 33. The Jayhawks took a punt on their own 14 yard line, but four plays later punted it away after gaining only 4 yards.

Going into the second quarter, the Jayhawk defense clamped down on the Blu-Jays, holding them to 10 yards, including two tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Taking over on downs on their own 45, four plays later the ‘Hawks were facing a fourth and 6 after a penalty for illegal motion.

Jayhawk defensive back Gus Grote breaks up a pass to Blu-Jay Dale Gillespie inside the 5-yard line.

The Jayhawks converted with a pitch to Seely on a 7 yard play. Another pitch to running back Trevor Brownback and picked up another first down. The Jayhawks worked their way downfield to the Pleasanton 14, but the Blu-Jays dug in and forced a turnover on downs.

Both teams suffered from bad snaps during the game, and one pinned the Blu-Jays back on their own 7, forcing Pleasanton once again to punt.

Starting from the Pleasanton 47, the Jayhawks were able to move the ball with Braeden Nation making a first down on a 13-yard pass, and a 10-yard pass to Brownback giving the visitors a first and goal on the 7 yard line. Moments later, a 4-yard pass to Bryton Spencer gave the Jayhawks a 12-0 lead with 33 seconds remaining in the first half.

That was all the time Pleasanton would need to put together a 65-yard drive in four plays to get on the scoreboard.

Shifting Gillespie to the quarterback position and Staton to receiver, the Blu-Jays used an 11-yard pass to Staton, a 39-yard pass to Johnson, and a 15-yard pass to Staton again for a touchdown. At the half after an unsuccessful conversion attempt the score was 12-6.

The third quarter remained a defensive duel with the Jayhawks turning over the ball on a fumble and a Pleasanton drive stalling out with a turnover on downs at the Jayhawk 28. The Blu-Jay defense was able to stop the next Jayhawk drive on the Jayhawk 37, but the ‘Hawks caught a lucky break when when a Pleasanton pass was picked off on the Jayhawk 27.

Two plays later, a 73-yard pass play to Seely gave the Jayhawks another touchdown and an 18-6 lead. Spencer punched in for the extra-point attempt, giving the Jayhawks another 2 points.

Neither team was able to reach the red zone in the final quarter. Behind by two touchdowns, the Blu-Jays went to the air to try to catch up. But several potential big plays were broken up by Jayhawk defenders, and the final score remained 20-6 for a Jayhawk win.

Jayhawk Garrett Seely is wrapped up by Eli McGinnis and other Blu-Jay defenders.

The Jayhawk put up 301 yards of total offense with 226 of those yards on passing and 75 yards on the ground. Their defense was, for the most part, able to contain the explosive power of the Blu-Jays’ Karsten McKee.

The Blu-Jays were held to 223 yards on offense, with 99 yards rushing and 124 yards in the air.

Pleasanton was able to make three of 13 third-down conversions but its defense allow the ‘Hawks only one of nine.

Each team had only one turnover, with the Jayhawks picking off a pass and the Blu-Jays recovering a fumble.

Jayhawk Coach Dustin Johnson said the Blu-Jays have been the toughest team they’ve played so far this year. He also said the game, essentially an at-home game for both teams, was the biggest stage his team has played on.

The Jayhawks, now with a perfect 6-0 host Olpe (4-2) at home in district play this Friday. If they win, the ‘Hawks will likely play two weaker teams at home, putting them in good shape for the regionals at Colgin.

The Blu-Jays, now 4-2, will travel to Central Heights (3-3) for their first district game. The Jayhawks beat the Vikings 58-13 the week prior to the Pleasanton game.

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