It was a record-setting night for the North Jackson Chiefs Friday night at the brand new Arab Sports Complex.
No. 6-ranked North Jackson beat the Arab Knights 41-22, capping its eighth all-time undefeated regular season while breaking the AHSAA regular-season scoring record for points scored in a single season with 617.
“We’re not satisfied,” said North Jackson head coach Mark Rose of the accomplishment. “We just want to keep getting better.”
North Jackson running back Lee Witherspoon also broke the AHSAA State record for touchdowns (54) scored in a single season with 54 total touchdowns. Witherspoon scores the record-breaking touchdown on North Jackson’s final drive of the game.
“It feels great to see all the hard work we’ve put in paying off,” Witherspoon said.
North Jackson (10-0) faced its first real test of the season, trailing 15-6 at one point in the second quarter. North Jackson took the lead before the half, and cruised to their first undefeated regular season since 2011.
Arab won the coin toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff. The Knights put together a drive that lasted almost six minutes, but North Jackson linebacker Travis Woodall blocked a 33-yard field goal attempt. North Jackson took over at the 30-yard line and scored on the first play with Witherspoon racing 70 yards to the end zone for a 6-0 Chiefs’ lead.
Arab countered with quarterback Alexander Alcala’s 1-yard touchdown run, and the Knights took an 8-6 lead on a fake PAT when kicker Cole Simmons completed a pass to Taylor Ferguson. Arab (1-9) then recovered an onside kick, leading to Alcala’s 32-yard touchdown pass to Christopher Alldredge and Simmons’ PAT for a 15-6 lead with 8:20 left until halftime.
Facing its largest deficit of the season, the Chiefs answered with Witherspoon’s 40-yard run to the end zone. North Jackson converted the two-point try, and trailed 15-14 halfway through the second quarter. The North Jackson defense forced a three-and-out on Arab’s next drive. It took Witherspoon two plays to score his third touchdown, a 56-yard run that gave the Chiefs a 20-15 halftime lead.
North Jackson received the second-half kickoff and administered a four-minute drive to help extend their lead. Deshawn Ware capped off the drive with a 15-yard touchdown run, and the Chiefs led 27-15 with 8:07 left in the third quarter. Witherspoon added his fourth touchdown on the night with a 61-yard touchdown run to close the third quarter for a 34-15 North Jackson lead.
Arab pulled within 34-22 in the fourth quarter, but Witherspoon scored his record-setting touchdown on a 15-yard run with two minutes left. The touchdown run left Witherspoon just two shy of breaking the current AHSAA’s single-season rushing touchdown record (49).
Rose praised Arab for the way they played Friday night.
“We needed to get in here and get tested. I told the guys it was going to be tough,” said Rose, “Coach Glasscock is an old school, physical coach and they came out and got after us.”
Rose mentioned how proud he was of his team for responding to adversity, and putting the game away in the second half.
North Jackson bounced back from a 2-8 record last season. Chief senior linebacker Travis Woodall is proud of the way his team has competed so far this season.
“It feels great to come back like we have this year, and now we’re getting those rewards Coach Rose is always telling us about,” said Woodall, “We’re looking forward to trying to win each week from now on in the playoffs.”
Witherspoon led the Chiefs on offense with 344 yards rushing on nineteen carries and five touchdowns. Deshawn Ware added 39 yards on four carries, and he scored a touchdown and converted a two-point try. Travis Woodall led the North Jackson defense with 23 tackles and a blocked field goal attempt.
North Jackson will face Curry, the fourth seed from Class 4A Region 5, in the first round of the AHSAA state playoffs next Friday night at R.D. Hicks Stadium in Stevenson.
“It’s 0-0 now,” said Rose, “We’re going to take it one at a time, but I believe in our kids. I think we’ll come out next week and play our best game.”