Goal Lines: Jays hope experience pays off tonight at Pleasant Hill

Kantrell Jordan (5) runs for a touchdown as Jefferson City teammate Bradarious Lewis looks for someone to block during last Friday night’s game against Marshall at Adkins Stadium. (Ken Barnes/News Tribune)
Kantrell Jordan (5) runs for a touchdown as Jefferson City teammate Bradarious Lewis looks for someone to block during last Friday night’s game against Marshall at Adkins Stadium. (Ken Barnes/News Tribune)

The Jefferson City Jays hope the third time is the charm.

The No. 2 Jays are set to make their third straight Class 4 District 5 championship appearance when they travel to take on the top-seeded and seventh-ranked Pleasant Hill Roosters at 7 p.m. today.

After losing the past two district titles to Hannibal, Jefferson City knows what to expect and hopes that leads to its first district championship since 2009.

“We do hope that the experience of the last two has taught the kids that it’s tough,” Jefferson City coach Damon Wells said. “Everybody is good at this point.”

The Jays (7-4) will have their hands full with Pleasant Hill (9-1), which is coming off a 55-14 home victory last week in the district semifinals against No. 4 seed Warrensburg.

The Roosters are led by a high-powered offense that enters averaging 44.8 points per game.

“Their record and the points they average per game is no fluke,” Wells said. “They are legitimately talented, well-coached. But again, that’s what you’d expect at this point of the season.”

One of the reasons Pleasant Hill has the numbers it does offensively is its tempo.

The Roosters use a fast-paced, no-huddle approach that puts extra stress on defenses.

“This isn’t just tempo, this is super-fast tempo,” Wells said. “… They want to snap the ball about every 15 seconds it seems like, so we are going to have to buckle up and be ready for that.”

Pleasant Hill’s offense runs through senior running back Brayden Bush, who enters tonight’s game with 893 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns on 118 carries (7.6 avg.).

Bush is one of the few Roosters who plays offense and defense, and he is the focal point on both sides of the ball.

“He’s especially talented, he excels offensively and defensively,” Wells said. “Everything kind of runs through him. He’s a force, he’s a force to be reckoned with.”

Bush is far from the only ball carrier to look out for, though.

Junior Garrison Hartsell is next on the team in carries with 138 for 831 yards (6.0 avg.) and eight touchdowns, senior wide receiver Grayson Suduth has added 20 rushes for 236 yards (11.8 avg.) with two scores while catching 37 passes for 416 yards and a touchdown, senior wide receiver Tyler Wise has carried the ball 10 times for 150 yards (15.0 avg.) and a touchdown and has caught 28 passes for 362 yards and four scores.

“I think with the tempo they play with, it lends itself to trying to get a lot of people involved,” Wells said.

Senior quarterback Bo Daniel has also proven to be able to hurt defenses in multiple ways.

Daniel enters 91-of-160 passing (57 percent) for 1,372 yards with six touchdowns and one interception while rushing 42 times for 256 yards (6.1 avg.) and five more scores.

“He’s multifaceted and he does a great job of running their system,” Wells said.

Jefferson City has a simple approach to slowing down the Roosters’ offense: Keep it off the field.

“One thing is to try and be able to hold onto the football and sustain drives,” Wells said. “They can’t go tempo, they can’t score a bunch of points if they are not on the field.”

That will not be an easy task against a Pleasant Hill defense that is giving up just 18.2 points per game.

The Roosters have given up more than 21 points just twice this season, with their season high of points allowed coming in a 61-44 victory at Oak Grove in Week 6.

“They are very sound in their schemes,” Wells said. “We say all the time that you can’t tell the difference between a confused player and a scared player on film, and it’s easy to tell that their players are neither.”

Pleasant Hill has also showed it can hurt teams on special teams.

The Roosters enter with three return touchdowns, two coming on punt returns from Suduth and the other coming on a kick return from Wise.

“They are diverse with their special teams,” Wells said. “They’ll show you some things that you maybe haven’t seen before, so you better be prepared and you better be sound yourself.”

The Jays have had very little resistance getting past their first two playoff games and have been able to run away with 63-16 and 49-3 victories against Fulton and Marshall, respectively.

Jefferson City knows from the past two years that the road gets a lot more difficult starting tonight.

“I think just from an experiential standpoint knowing that it’s going to be a challenge at this particular point in the season,” Wells said. “There are no easy paths to get past here.”

Notes: The winner of tonight’s contest will move into the state quarterfinal round against the winner of Bolivar and McDonald County, which is also scheduled for 7 p.m. today. With a win, the Jays would host Bolivar or play McDonald County on the road. … Tonight will mark the first-ever matchup between Jefferson City and Pleasant Hill. … Both teams will be making an appearance in the district championship for the third straight season. The Roosters have won each of their past two, but both came in Class 3. Pleasant Hill defeated Odessa 35-7 last year to win a district title and Summit Christian Academy 33-29 the year before. … Eight Jays were named to the Central Missouri Activities Conference all-conference teams that were released Wednesday. Offensive lineman Brody Smith was the lone member on the first-team offense, running back Kantrell Jordan and center Jayden Roling were selected to the second-team offense, linebacker Alex Holloway was named to the first-team defense, quarterback Jacob Wilson and running back Zach Barnes were listed as honorable mentions on offense and linebacker Kane Fuelling and safety Ryan Tadsen were selected as honorable mentions on defense. … Fuelling led Jefferson City in tackles last week with eight, linebacker Colton Ketchum was next with seven and linebacker Anthony Seneker was right behind with six. … Holloway leads the team in tackles headed into tonight with 66, Fuelling is next with 63 and Seneker and Ketchum are tied for third with 62.