ANDERSON -- The Jefferson City Jays were prepared to deal with adversity in their Class 4 quarterfinal matchup Saturday against the McDonald County Mustangs.
There was plenty of adversity throughout the game, and the Jays battled through it all and picked up a 31-28 victory to clinch a berth in the state semifinals for the first time since 2008.
“We’ve talked all week long in our personal growth meetings about dealing with adversity and how adversity can help you out in the long run,” Jefferson City coach Damon Wells said. “I hope they embraced it, but it sure seemed like they did.”
It didn’t take long for Jefferson City to fall behind and face adversity, as the Mustangs came out firing on all cylinders in their first-ever state quarterfinal game and jumped out to a 14-0 lead after the first quarter.
Things looked bleak with the Jays facing a third-and-12 at their own 27-yard line on the second play of the second quarter.
Jefferson City turned to its misdirection draw play, and Bradarious Lewis ran for a 73-yard touchdown.
Lewis was 30 yards down the field before McDonald County figured out who had the football, and he ran the rest of the way untouched without a defender in sight.
“That’s just a little something special we do,” Wells said. “We blocked it up and Bradarious made a great cut. If somebody does something great like that, it means a heck of a lot people a heck of a lot of things right.”
Lewis’ touchdown was exactly the momentum the Jays needed in a tough environment nearly four hours away from home.
“Absolutely,” Jefferson City senior quarterback Jacob Wilson said. “I think I came back and screamed to the sideline, ‘We here, we back, this is us now.’ We absolutely took that momentum and that allowed us to win that first half.”
That’s exactly what the Jays did, as they rattled off two more scoring drives in the second quarter to take a 21-14 lead into intermission.
Lewis scored the first by ending an 11-play, 53-yard drive with a 6-yard touchdown run, and Wilson found Kendric Johnson behind the Mustang secondary with 1:00 left in the quarter for 42-yard touchdown to take the lead.
“He’s my guy, we just have that connection,” Wilson said. “… Anytime I need someone to go to, I look at where Kenny is.”
It was a good comeback, but the game was far from over.
McDonald County ate up more than seven minutes of the third quarter with its opening drive with a 14-play, 64-yard effort that ended with a Malosi Sosef 1-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 21.
Wilson hit Zach Barnes for a 42-yard gain on the third play of the ensuing drive, but the possession stalled at the Mustang 13 and forced a 30-yard field goal try. Johnson booted it through from the left hash, nearly the same kick he made a week prior to clinch the district title, to make it 24-21 entering the fourth quarter.
The Jays had to deal with adversity again, though, as McDonald County marched down the field in 11 plays and punched in the go-ahead touchdown on a 2-yard run up the middle by quarterback Destyn Dowd to put Jefferson City behind 28-24 with 9:28 left.
The Jays looked to be on their way to retake the lead, but Wilson’s second-and-15 pass from the Mustang 25 bounced off the intended receiver’s hands and into the air, which Slyte Osbourne grabbed for an interception to set up McDonald County at its own 43 with 7:43 left following a late hit out of bounds.
Jefferson City was officially in the danger zone.
“How are we going to respond?” Jays senior lineman Brody Smith said. “There was seven minutes left, and they are really good at draining the clock. We knew if we got them in a second-and-long or a third-down situation, we were going to have to make a play on that. And we did.”
The Jays got their chance to make the defense stand with the Mustangs facing a fourth-and-3 at the Jefferson City 26.
Dowd ran a quarterback power run to the right, and the Jays were able to bring him down two yards short of the sticks for a turnover on downs with 3:16 remaining.
“Ultimately it came down to a fourth-down play, and we came up big in the moment,” Smith said.
Jefferson City wasted no time to move deep down into McDonald County territory. Wilson found Barnes deep down the visiting sideline on a wheel route on the first play of the drive for a 46-yard gain.
Two plays later, Wilson found Johnson on a third-and-6 play for a 19-yard gain on an out route to set up first-and-goal from the 6.
It was the final pass attempt for Wilson, as he finished with a career-high 230 passing yards and Johnson hauled in a career-high 142 receiving yards.
“It’s everything we work on and it was great for it to pay dividends and come to fruition,” Wells said.
Barnes ran in the go-ahead score on the next play and Johnson made the final of his four made extra-point attempts to put the Jays in front 31-28 with 1:58 left.
But Jefferson City still had to come away with a stop to clinch the game.
That’s exactly what the Jays did. Dowd attempted consecutive passes on third and fourth down with four yards to go, but both fell incomplete and turned the ball over to Jefferson City, which kneeled out the clock.
“We did it last week, we did it this week and hopefully we will do it again next week,” Smith said. “We know that if we are up and it’s a big drive, we know that our defense and can step up and make big plays.”
The victory advances Jefferson City (9-4) into the Final Four, where it will host No. 4 Kearney (11-2), which advanced with a 35-0 win Saturday against No. 8 Nevada, at 1 p.m. Saturday at Adkins Stadium. It will be the biggest home game for the Jays since 2001 when they hosted Blue Springs in the semifinals.
“I want the stands to be like the ’90s,” Wilson said. “I want that stadium to be packed, I want it to be bumping.”