Jays get set to meet Hazelwood East (with PODCAST)

Ripken Dodson of the Jays makes a one-handed catch late in the second quarter of last Friday’s game against Fayetteville in Fayetteville, Ark.

Ripken Dodson of the Jays makes a one-handed catch late in the second quarter of last Friday’s game against Fayetteville in Fayetteville, Ark. Don Sisson/Special to the News Tribune

A loss is a loss, no matter how Jefferson City head coach Ted LePage looks at it.

But that doesn’t mean Jefferson City’s 34-24 loss at Fayetteville (Ark.) can’t be a learning experience, good and bad, for the Jays.

“We did some things we could really learn from in the game,” LePage said as the Jays prepare to play at Hazelwood East at 1 p.m. Saturday. “The one thing I really took from that was we played a really well coached football team and found ways to get back in the football game.”

The good: Quarterback Gabe Marcantonio overcame an early interception that was returned for a touchdown to put up solid numbers by the time the game was over. He threw for 154 yards and ran for 133 in just his third start at quarterback.

His performance was indicative of how the offense played after the first two drives of the game ended in turnovers.

“We put the ball in his hands and gave him a chance to prove what he could do,” LePage said. “Instead of bowing down to that early mistake, he rose up and he played with a ton of, almost, I call it experience. He looked like he started 15, 16 games.”

The Jays (2-1, No. 9 in Class 6) had six fewer penalties than the Bulldogs and won the turnover battle 3-2.

But none of the above equated to a Jays’ victory.

That means there are things LePage saw that his team has to fix moving forward. Falling behind 14-0 midway through the first quarter will be a killer in almost any game.

Tightening up the passing defense after last week has been another focus for the Jays.

Fayetteville quarterback Mitch Marshall completed 17-of-29 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns.

“I think our defensive passing capabilities are some of the areas we were exposed last week,” LePage said. “I think that will be shored up.”

He added: “Once we show an area of weakness, at our level of football, everybody is going to see it and they are going to go right after it. So you better shore your weaknesses up really quick or you’re going to see it over and over again.”

Jefferson City knows a thing or two about Hazelwood East’s offensive capabilities.

The Jays will expect a heavy dose of Hazelwood East’s running backs Ahmad Huddleston and Jimmy Jones. The duo combined to rush for more than 200 yards in its 41-32 loss at Jefferson City last year. The Spartans finished the game with 420 rushing yards.

Jones has three rushing and four receiving touchdowns this season. He’s averaging nearly eight yards per carry.

“On defense we can’t allow those guys to get behind us,” LePage said. “We’ve got to keep everything in front of us and make them consistently move the ball down the field.”

Huddleston, who is listed at 5-foot-6 150 pounds, can be tough for opposing defenses to bring down. LePage said the key is to hit him as low as possible in order to slow his legs down.

“I’ve never seen a kid carry a chip on his shoulder like this guy,” LePage said. “He just goes 1,000 miles an hour. He’s going to be everywhere on every special teams. He never comes off the field. He plays like he is the best, biggest, baddest man alive.”

While the focus this week has been on stopping Hazelwood East’s running game, the lessons learned from last week are fresh on the players’ minds.

“The biggest thing you need to take away from it is we did some things that didn’t equate out to a victory,” LePage said.

Notes: Hazelwood East is 2-1 with wins against McCluer (41-0) and Pattonville (23-14), and a loss to Class 5 state champion Kirkwood (38-21). The Jays are 3-0 all time against the Spartans with all three wins in the last three years. ... The Jays will be without receiver Daniel Ellinger for a second straight week as he recovers from a knee injury. ... The Spartans are coached by Aaron Whittington who played linebacker at UCLA from 2004-07. His brother Daryl played defensive end at Missouri from 1996-2000.

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