Final rivalry bout in Al Simpler Stadium ends on high note for Blue Jays
A Hail Mary toss by Manhattan’s Dayne Aschenbrenner was pulled in by senior defensive back Javon George near the Blue Jay 45-yard line and returned deep into Indian territory with time running out in the game Friday night at Al Simpler Stadium. The play solidified the 36-29 victory for Junction City, thus returning the Silver Cup after a one-year stay in Manhattan.
“That's a very, very good Manhattan team,” said Junction City head coach Randall Zimmerman. “They're so well coached and I was so proud of our kids. They played so hard. For a very young ... it's just unbelievable that when you're starting a 14 year old freshmen and as many sophomores we have on field —we just have very little depth ... they just they just battled so hard. It feels so good for our kid. I just love these kids to death, love this community, love these kids — it's just so much fun.”
The Blue Jays scored first in the game after a Manhattan fumble turned the ball over near mid-field. Three plays later, quarterback Andre Khoury connected with senior wide out Marcello Bussey for the touchdown.
After regrouping, the Indians scored 15 unanswered points to take the lead, one they held the remainder of the first-half.
Down 22-7, the Blue Jays responded with 14 points in the later-half of the second quarter to pull within one of the Indians.
“When you look at the scoreboard and the first minute of the second quarter and it's 22-7 you're thinking, this is ugly,” Zimmerman said. “Our kids never started believing that. They just believed in themselves and we battled. We battled back from that point, played very hard to make the plays.”
During the mid-game break and conference, the Blue Jays tweaked some minor things for the second-half, Zimmerman said. The adjustments worked as the Blue Jays held Manhattan to seven second-half points — a keeper by Aschenbrenner with 4:21 to play in the third quarter.
“I was confident in our defense at the very end,” Khoury said walking off the field. “I was just so happy that we came out with the [win]. We messed up offensively, but the defense clutched up so many times for us. Defense won us that football game, I don't care about the score — defense won us that football game.”
Recognizing his mistakes and praising the defense is what makes Khoury the leader he is, Zimmerman said.
“He's a tremendous leader,” he said. “He knows he made a couple bad reads tonight and threw the ball where he shouldn't have. But, never let it rattling him. (He) kept believing, kept letting his teammates know what was going to happen. Kept everybody's head calm including my own.”
Friday’s game was the last regular season match up for the Blue Jays and Indians at Al Simpler Stadium as the teams will play on the yet unnamed new stadium located on the new JCHS campus west of town. The victory, especially for the seniors and Zimmerman, was one that meant a lot to the team and Zimmerman.
“I love this stadium, I do,” Zimmerman said. “I love the stadium — love this place. The Simpler family is an unbelievable great family. The things that they did here in this community and for this community … I mean it's great family, great stadium, great atmosphere. (I) wish we could have had more fans in the stands tonight, but the circumstance didn't allow it and I know there's a bunch of people at home that were watching it live streamed.”
With the victory, the Blue Jays advance to 1-1 on the season and will prepare for their next challenge — Topeka Seaman next week at home.
“It's an incredibly tough team again,” Zimmerman said. “You look at Bishop Carroll, then you got Manhattan and you got Seaman — three incredibly physical, disciplined teams and, you know, we got to regroup on Monday and go right back at it.”
Manhattan 15 7 7 0-29
Junction City 7 14 8 7-36