HAZELWOOD, Mo. - It was gone in the blink of an eye.
With Jefferson City ahead by 10 points late in the fourth quarter, Hazelwood East stormed back with three scores in the final 2:51 Saturday afternoon to down the Jays 33-22.
"I don't think we were stunned, I just think that once they raised their intensity, our intensity didn't match," Jefferson City head coach Ted LePage said. "That starts with us as coaches. We need to make sure that we get our players to be disciplined and then also to be excited. It just didn't seem like we were excited in that fourth quarter like we had been the whole game."
The rally started early in the fourth quarter with a huge defensive stop for Hazelwood East. Jefferson City, facing a fourth-and-one inside the Spartan 20, was stuffed for no gain, turning the ball over on downs.
"That started the unraveling," LePage said "I know it was the turning point. If we get that fourth-and-a foot inside their 20, we have a good opportunity to score and we can run at least three or four minutes off the clock."
Instead, Hazelwood East swung some momentum their way, although still trailing 22-12. The Spartans took advantage with a 12-play drive that culminated with quarterback Brandon Brice finding the end zone from 2 yards out with 2:51 left in the contest. Brice hit Jimmy Jones for a 2-point conversion and it was 22-20.
"They turn around and drive down and score and get a little momentum," LePage said. "Things started to turn right there. Our team didn't react real well at that point in time."
Hazelwood East elected to kick it deep, setting the Jays up at their own 22. Jefferson City promptly went three-and-out, giving the Spartans the ball just 35 seconds later at their own 45.
"There in the fourth quarter we were really trying to protect the ball, we were really trying to milk the clock because we wanted to keep the ball away from them," LePage said. "But at the same standpoint they did a nice job adjusting to our offense."
Three plays later, Jones dropped what would have been a 47-yard, go-ahead touchdown pass. That mistake didn't prevent Hazelwood East from going right back to the playmaker. Two downs later, Brice hit a wide-open Jones for a 35-yard touchdown pass down the right sideline. The two-point conversion failed, but the Spartans now held a 26-22 edge with 58 seconds left.
"Their quarterback threw a really nice ball there at the end for the long touchdown pass," LePage said. "The big thing was we got so caught up with (star running backs Ahmad) Huddleston and Jones, but you've also got another facet there. That's the thing they haven't had the past couple years when we've played them, and that's a quarterback that can throw the ball down the field. He did a nice job for them."
On the Jays' third play of the ensuing drive, Jones intercepted a pass and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown to put on the finishing touches on the Spartans' win with 37 seconds remaining.
Jefferson City, after racking up 321 total yards in the first half, managed just 76 in the second half.
"We knew this was going to be a famine or feast game for us," LePage said. "We knew that as much as they attacked, if we could get loose there was going to be a lot of opportunities for big plays. We also knew we were going to get some plays that weren't so big."
It seemed as if the day would belong to the Jays based on the game's first 24 minutes.
Gabe Marcantonio capped an eight-play opening drive for Jefferson City with a 4-yard score. J.T. Bohlken booted the PAT to make it 7-0. Due to a clock malfunction in the opening half, the referees kept the time on the field.
Hazelwood East took a 12-7 lead later in the quarter on a pair of long touchdown passes by Brice to Huddleston (60 yards) and Jones (43 yards). Excluding those two plays and Hazelwood East mustered only 62 first-half yards.
Jefferson City responded with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Marcantonio to Jake Pridgin late in the opening stanza, followed by a quarterback keeper for the 2-point conversion to put the Jays ahead 15-12.
Marcantonio tossed another touchdown pass early in the second period, this one a 30-yarder to Denzil Wilson, giving the Jays a 22-12 edge.
Other than a missed 22-yard field goal just before halftime and the failed fourth-and-one opportunity in the fourth quarter, the Jays couldn't get much else going after that.
"I thought we played a great first half," LePage said. "We had a couple miscues on the defensive side where we gave up a couple easy scores, but boy, we really played well."
Jefferson City (2-2) hosts DeSmet on Friday at Adkins Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
"I anticipate we'll come back and have the energy level next week," LePage said. "They'll rebound. This is a resilient team. It's just we didn't match it in the fourth quarter today."