It is win or go home time for the Jefferson City Jays.
The No. 2 seed Jays are using a simple motto headed into the start of the postseason at 7 p.m. today against the No. 7 seed Fulton Hornets at Adkins Stadium in the first round of the Class 4 District 5 Tournament.
“We say pretty frequently, ‘Seven more days,’” Jefferson City coach Damon Wells said. “The only thing that changes is that we are playing for our careers now basically.”
Fulton (1-8) is coming off its lone win of the season after a 22-13 victory against Winfield.
The Hornets entered the fourth quarter trailing 7-0 before erupting for a 22-point fourth to secure their first victory.
“They were willing and able to get the ball to their playmakers,” Wells said. “They were willing and able to come back from a deficit. I think having faced the adversity that they had, I think it says a lot about the fight of their team.”
Jefferson City (5-4) is also coming off a win to end the regular season, a 34-7 victory against Class 3 No. 9 Moberly.
The win snapped a two-game losing steak for the Jays and helped the offense snap out of a funk in which it had scored just 20 points in the past two contest, including zero in the second halves.
“I am proud of our boys for the way they executed and performed,” Wells said.
Fulton’s offense comes in averaging 10.9 points per game, with the highest point total of the season coming in a Week 6 28-27 loss against Mexico.
The Hornets are led on offense by junior quarterback Ethan Milius, who took over the starting job in Week 5 and has started every game since.
Milius has completed 41-of-77 passes for 514 yards and four touchdowns with seven interceptions.
“He knows who his playmakers are, and he is totally willing to do what it takes to try and get the ball to those playmakers,” Wells said.
One of those playmakers Milius will try to get the ball to his junior wide receiver Gabriel DeFily.
DeFily has a majority of Fulton’s production in the passing game, catching 26 passes for 436 yards out of the team’s 793 receiving yards with four of the five receiving touchdowns the Hornets have.
“He’s talented,” Wells said. “He runs well, good ball skills. So we definitely can’t take plays off because he’s absolutely good enough where we could get hurt.”
Jefferson City will also have to pay attention to junior running back Malik Douglas, who enters with 813 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on 119 carries.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Hornets have given up 38.2 points per game.
Despite the high number of points allowed, the Jays are worried about Fulton’s run defense.
“I think their kids are tough, they are scrappy,” Wells said. “I think they do things well that could give us fits. They play the run pretty well, and that’s where we tend to hang our hat. I think we will have our hands full.”
The Hornets have been led on defense by Douglas with 74 tackles, including five for loss. DeFily is next at 68 and Tyson Douglas and Marcus Garrett are tied for third at 61 each.
“I think that their linebacker corp is probably their strength defensively,” Wells said. “They have some playmakers at that level. They are willing to blitz from many different angles. They can definitely cause some problems.”
The Jays just missed out on the top seed of the district and a first-round bye, but staying in the rhythm of playing could be viewed as a bonus for Jefferson City.
“It’s a win-win I think,” Wells said. “We get to stay in the groove of things, but we don’t get that rest time. So, it is what it is. We are happy where we are.”
Notes: Tonight’s matchup will be the 44th all-time between the Jays and Hornets, with Jefferson City leading the series 25-13-5. The two sides first matched up in 1908, took a break until 1920 and then played every year, with the exception of 1922, until 1962. Tonight will be the first game in the series since 1962. … Ryan Tadsen led the Jays’ defense last week with 13 tackles, followed by Kane Fuelling and Alex Holloway with nine each. Holloway leads the team in tackles headed into the postseason with 64, followed by Anthony Seneker with 53 and Fuelling and Colton Ketchum at 52 each. … Jefferson City senior running back Kantrell Jordan went down with a head injury during the first series of last week’s game and did not return. It is unclear if Jordan will be available to play tonight. … In tonight’s other Class 4 District 5 Tournament matchups, No. 3 Van Horn will host No. 6 Marshall and No. 4 Warrensburg will host No. 5 School of the Osage. Top-seeded Pleasant Hill received a first-round by and will face the winner of Warrensburg and Osage. The winner of tonight’s matchup between Jefferson City and Fulton will take on the winner of Van Horn and Marshall next week, with the district championship scheduled for Friday, Nov. 10.