On a night plagued by ugly weather for most of the game, the outcome was beautiful for North Jackson.
The Chiefs beat Class 4A Region 7 foe St. John Paul II Falcons 27-9 to lock up a playoff berth.
“(Clinching a playoff spot) feels really good, these guys have worked hard and you play for the seniors and giving them the opportunity to play another game. That’s a big deal,” said North Jackson head coach Hollis Jr. “It was a good team game. It was a little sloppy with the conditions but we’re happy with the outcome. Just proud of the guys, any time you can go on the road and get a win, you’re going to celebrate it and enjoy it.”
The victory was also a 275th all-time win for North Jackson, which began playing football in 1988 after the consolidation of Bridgeport and Stevenson High Schools. North Jackson is 275-118 all-time according the Alabama High School Football Historical Society (ahsfhs.org).
The game began with North Jackson scoring the first 14 points of the game in their first two drives, being able to consistently gain yardage, only having one third down the entire quarter. North Jackson freshman Diego Holt ran in the first touchdown from 10 yards out and senior Brady Cunningham scored on a 30-yard run the next drive.
In the second quarter, the game took a turn for the worse as it began to rain, starting with a light drizzle before growing into a torrential downpour that left both teams struggling to maintain possession. Though North Jackson was still able to move the ball downfield at the beginning of the quarter, the rain began to take a toll on both offenses, as both teams traded fumbles in a series of three plays.
With less than a minute to go, North Jackson was finally able to extend their lead, with senior Macklin Guess punching the ball in from 5 yards out, allowing North Jackson to take a 21-0 lead into the half.
“We were just trying to get a snap and try to play physical football, it got a little sideways with the weather but the guys persevered,” Hollis Jr. said.
Though he didn’t play the second half due to an injury late in the second quarter, Holt led the game with 121 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown.
“He’s going to be OK; he just got a little banged up but he’s going to be good to go for next week,” Hollis Jr. said.
In the third quarter, the rain picked back up after a few minutes of play and caused more problems for both sides of the ball. To start, St. John Paul II lost a fumble in the red zone, handing North Jackson the ball on their own 10-yard line. After failing to gain a first down, the Chiefs lined up to punt from their own 15. The snap flew over the head of the punter and out of the back of the end zone, resulting in a safety, giving the Falcons a chance to put themselves back in the ballgame. They would cash in on the extra possession, with Falcons senior Luke Mayo hitting senior JP Ross on a trick play for a 43-yard touchdown. On the ensuing kickoff, Guess would take the kick all the way back for a Chiefs touchdown, effectively slamming the door on the hopes of a Falcons comeback.
Next week, North Jackson (4-4, 4-2) will host New Hope (3-5, 1-5) in its final region game of the season.