The Jefferson City Jays’ seniors knew something needed to change following last week’s loss to the Battle Spartans.
Two of those seniors, quarterback Jacob Wilson and lineman Brody Smith, took it upon themselves to lead a players-only meeting Tuesday.
“We felt after the Battle game that there were things that absolutely had to be addressed,” Wilson said. “Coach (Damon) Wells always preaches player-led culture, so we thought that was what was most appropriate at that time.”
Heading into Friday’s Homecoming game against the Moberly Spartans, the Jays knew their focus needed to be on point.
With district seeding implications on the line, Jefferson City put together one of its best performances of the season in a 34-7 win against the Spartans, holding them to a season-low point total while scoring more points than Moberly had allowed in a game this season.
“We knew this is a big game obviously, lot to have to do with district seeding and momentum headed into the playoffs,” Smith said. “We just wanted to get together and emphasize the fact that we need to focus on the objective and last week is behind us. We were coming off two straight losses and coming back home against a smaller opponent that we don’t know much about.
“We were able to put all that aside, stay focused and got it done.”
The Jays were led by their defense Friday night.
Jefferson City limited Moberly to just 206 total yards and eight first downs while holding the Spartans off the scoreboard until late in the fourth quarter with the game already in hand.
“The defense played great,” senior offensive lineman and linebacker Alex Holloway said. “They had one big play. We take that away and they scored zero points.”
The Jays’ defense came up with two huge takeaways on defense, both on fumble recoveries inside their own 10-yard line.
The first came on the Spartans’ opening drive of the game. Moberly moved the ball down to the Jefferson City 5 before Ben Bates was able to force a fumble at the 1 to set up the Jays at their own 1.
“We got a little bit lucky getting those two red-zone takeaways,” Jays senior linebacker Anthony Seneker said, “but the defense definitely played great.”
Jefferson City took the lead for good on the ensuing drive, going 99 yards in 12 plays and ending with a 15-yard touchdown run by Zach Barnes.
“Zach, I mean talk about a dude stepping up, I’m so proud of him,” Smith said.
The Jays’ other takeaway came late in the third quarter with a 20-point lead.
The Spartans faced a fourth-and-2 at the Jefferson City 18 before Gage St. Clair ran through the line of scrimmage untouched for a first down. But Holloway was able to hawk St. Clair down from behind and punched the ball out. Seneker jumped on the fumble and Jefferson City took back over at its own 6.
“I just saw him running toward the end zone, I just went to tackle him and the ball came out,” Holloway said. “I saw the ball, tried to punch it and it came out.”
The Jays took a 7-0 lead into the locker room and forced a three-and-out on defense to open the third quarter.
Jefferson City had not scored any points in the second halves of the past two games but put an end to that streak the first chance it could.
Facing a second-and-1 at the Moberly 25, Wilson evaded an unimpeded pass rusher by lofting a jump throw off his back foot down the middle of the field to Kendric Johnson. Johnson was able to adjust with the ball in the air and made a sliding catch at the 1-yard line for a 24-yard gain.
One play later, Wilson ran in a 1-yard quarterback sneak to extend the advantage to 13-0 following a missed extra-point attempt.
“I saw the pressure and then I saw my guy Kenny,” Wilson said. “In practice we have great chemistry, he pretty typically adjusts to my passes. So I just kind of jumped up and slung it to my man. I threw up a prayer and he answered it.”
Following a Spartan turnover on downs, Wilson capped off a nine-play, 52-yard drive with another 1-yard quarterback sneak touchdown to extend the lead to 20-0 with 2:31 left in the third.
Jefferson City erased any doubt of a comeback bid midway through the fourth when Bradarious Lewis, playing his first game since Week 6 against Hickman, capped a five-play, 55-yard drive with a 14-yard touchdown run.
Moberly scored its lone touchdown to follow on just a four-play drive.
Quarterback Jackson Engel was able to find tight end Gabe Flood deep across the middle on a crossing route, and Flood did the rest by running down the visiting sideline for a 55-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 27-7 with 2:37 left.
“Take away that one big touchdown pass, they were hovering around the century mark (in yards),” Smith said. “We were just able to do our jobs. We knew if we did our job, we’d be put in positions to make plays and we make big plays and we made those plays when they were in front of us.”
Wilson capped the contest with a 47-yard touchdown run on another quarterback sneak.
Wilson followed Smith, who had two pancakes on the play, and center Jayden Roling 12 yards down the field without being touched and then sprinted away from the Spartans’ secondary for the score.
“It’s starts out with a great push from our O-lineman,” Wilson said. “Then I heard Brody say, ‘Oh yeah, you’re gone.’ I can’t make my boy a liar, so you know I had to finish the run.”
Wilson led the Jefferson City ground attack, which rushed 51 times for 324 yards (6.4 avg.), with 105 yards on 11 attempts with three touchdowns. Lewis was next with 103 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries and Barnes had 17 rushes for 80 yards with a touchdown.
Moberly (7-2), ranked No. 9 in Class 3 by the Missouri Media Rankings, was led by Engel, who finished 5-of-12 passing for 89 yards and a score while rushing 10 times for 14 yards.
With the win paired with Van Horn’s 28-21 loss to Pembroke Hill on Friday, the Jays secured the No. 2 seed in the Class 4 District 5 playoffs.
Jefferson City will open the postseason against seventh-seeded Fulton (1-8) at Adkins Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.