JHHS football starts hot, finishes even better in district win over Onaga
It may not have been perfect, but the Jackson Heights football team overcame some early struggles to close out its homecoming game strong on the way to a 46-8 victory over Onaga on Friday.
From the way the game started, it actually seemed the Cobras would face little resistance from the Buffalos in their second district contest.
Jackson Heights received the ball to start and Mason Hamilton proceeded to return the opening kickoff into Buffalo territory. Then, it took the Cobras just three plays to get into the end zone as Hamilton finished the job with a 29-yard touchdown run.
“At the beginning, I think emotions really took control for us in a good way,” JHHS coach Caleb Wick said. “We came out. We were emotional. We were intense. We were hitting on all cylinders again like the Valley Falls game.”
Then, the Cobra defense was just as opportunistic, as Caleb Sullivan jumped on an Onaga fumble on the first play of the Buffalos’ ensuing possession.
Despite that quick start, though, Heights struggled to maintain that pace as that turnover and a following punt on Onaga’s second possession were answered with failed fourth-down conversions by the Cobras.
Wick credited the Onaga defense for throwing off JHHS, as the Buffalos went to a seven-man front that they hadn’t shown against a similar district opponent, Wabaunsee, a week earlier.
The outside linebackers were lining up right over the tackles, causing some problems, and this was also the first game in a while that Wick said the Cobras’ offensive line looked tired at times. Onaga’s big defensive line was throwing its weight around and Eli Zidek was at the front of that, making two tackles for loss to slow down Jackson Heights.
Consistency plagued the Buffalos, too, though as JHHS lineman Wyatt Roles drew the task of taking on the playmaking Zidek. At times, Roles dominated the match-up and overall he seemed to be a sparkplug for the Cobras, making some big plays on the defensive side of the ball as well.
“There was a moment in the second half where he jumped up and batted a ball down and then showed some emotion. That’s good to see and we’ll follow him. I think everybody will follow him. I think he needs to be more of a leader,” Wick said.
Roles nearly forced a fumble late in the second quarter that seemed to get JHHS going again, as the offense took over with 35.6 seconds left in the period and quickly put a few extra points on the scoreboard.
Once again, it only took the Cobras three plays to score. This time, it was Mason Thomas taking the plunge from three yards out to put Jackson Heights up 14-0 on Onaga.
Following that, Cobra quarterback Wyatt Olberding completed his first pass of the game on the next drive, connecting with Zane Richter for a 20-yard touchdown, but Onaga would respond with an 80-yard touchdown on the following kickoff return.
Heights still held a 22-8 advantage after that, but the team suffered a scare as it fumbled on the very first play of their next possession. Both offenses would stall out, though, and the home team kept that same advantage going into halftime.
Aside from some sloppy play on the offensive end, both teams seemed to get a little testy starting in the second quarter and penalties (especially personal fouls) began to negatively affect the Cobras as well, though Wick saw a pretty simple fix for most of his team’s problems.
“We took their best shot, it was just up to us getting our adjustments in and then going out there in the second half, getting a stop and ending the game. That’s really what we were harping at halftime,” Wick said.
Heights got a stop and then some to start the second half. While Onaga managed to chain together some first downs on the opening possession of the second half, the Cobra defense quickly turned the tide.
On an option play, Zane Richter burst into the backfield and managed to create a fumble that he recovered and then returned 55 yards for a quick score that all but deflated the Buffalos.
“I think the biggest play of the game is when Zane picks off that option pitch and takes it to the house. I think that was really the deciding factor, really what hurt them the most,” Wick said.
The JHHS defense, as strong as it was in the first half, was even more dominant in the second half, shutting out Onaga the rest of the way.
Meanwhile, the Cobras tacked on a 31-yard touchdown from Brady Holliday and Sebastian Butto then gained some steam at the end of the third quarter, picking up a first down on the final play and then opening the fourth quarter with a five-yard touchdown run to give the Cobras their final 46-8 margin of victory.
An interception by Mason Thomas then sealed the deal and allowed the Cobras to run out the clock.
Hidden in the balanced offensive performance, which also saw Hamilton rush for more than 100 yards in the first half alone, was the return of Adam Brey. Playing with a torn ACL and utilized in a limited role, Wick noted the senior fullback may not be the threat he was, but he does add some deception to the Cobra offense and that proved to be a boon on Friday.
While the Cobras certainly had some mishaps against Onaga, they still breezed to another district win. Wick noted it will be imperative, though, for the team to make improvements as Heights (5-1) gets ready for a showdown with Wabaunsee, which also boasts a perfect district record, this week.
“I told them after the game, I said, ‘guys, you didn’t play your best football, and I think all of you know that, but you still put 46 points on the board.’ We need to grow from this, we need to learn from this, we need to get better from this and I know we will.”
Jackson Heights and Wabaunsee will face off in Alma at 7 p.m. on Friday.
Oct. 16, 2015