Football season for the Junction City Blue Jays High School team came to an end with a 37-21 loss to Lawrence Lions in Regional.
“Lawrence is very good,” said Randal Zimmerman, Junction City coach. “We were not very good, early. It was kind of a crazy first half with four possessions total. We did not come out of the gates very well. We really felt like we had a good week, and we had some things against them offensively. We just did not quite get it executed.”
Junction City had relied on its defense all year long as the strongpoint of the team – especially after playmaking junior running back TJ Jones went down with a season-ending injury, but the defense was not up for the task tonight against a talented Lawrence offense.
Lawrence’s Truman Juelsgaard and senior running back Shance Wilkerson held the spotlight on the night and Junction City’s defense did not hold the spotlight like it had previously this season and it did not give the offense a chance to win late in the game.
Lawrence opened the game strong with an offensive possession marching down the field to score on a play from Junction City’s 1-yard line.
The hosts were unable to produce much offense on its following possession which resulted in a punt. Junction City’s defense showed a slight spark in the game as it forced Lawrence into a 3rd and 8 in the red zone with great zone coverage breaking up a pass play in the end zone on third down – forcing Lawrence to settle with a field goal.
Lawrence then held a 10-0 lead.
The Blue Jays needed to put points on the board down 10-0 with 9:03 remaining in the second quarter, and that is what they did on their offensive possession after the field goal.
They marched down the field and junior quarterback Xavion Felton ran the ball in for a 34-yard rushing touchdown on a quarterback draw to cut the lead to 10-7.
The hosts had some momentum going for them, but it did not last long.
Lawrence had a strong response with returning the kickoff to the 50-yard line. They melted down the remaining of the clock for the second quarter, marching down the field to score a touchdown from the 1-yard line to go into halftime with a 17-7 lead.
Coming out of halftime receiving the ball in the second half, Zimmerman thought his team would be better offensively, but it just was not there this game.
“Second half, we really felt like we had things fixed and ready to go,” Zimmerman said. “But we had to go three-and-out again and got behind by two scores.”
Junction City had to punt from its own side of the field to begin the second half, but its defense also forced Lawrence to punt from inside the 20-yard line. Giving Junction City a break, Lawrence’s punter was unable to corral the snap, and was forced to recover the ball on the 1-yard line.
That set up an easy 1-yard rushing touchdown for Felton, and at the beginning of the third quarter Junction City was down just 17-14 and went back to relying on its defense.
But again, the defense was just not up to the task. Lawrence’s Juelsgaard had a long pass play to get the ball inside the red zone, and the drive resulted in a touchdown.
Lawrence had a 24-14 lead with 7:45 remaining in the third quarter.
The hosts were unable to produce much on its following offensive possession. Juelsgaard produced more passing highlights for Lawrence following possession, resulting in the visitors scoring another touchdown to take a commanding 31-14 lead with 2:10 remaining in the third quarter.
Junction City showed heart and pride in the fourth quarter as two trick double-pass plays for big yardage fooled Lawrence’s defense to score a touchdown.
Late in the fourth quarter, Juelsgaard displayed his speed once more as he ran down the left sideline on a quarterback read for a 40-yard rushing touchdown to seal the 38-21 victory.
Zimmerman was disappointed in how the game ended. From coming into this season, however, as very young and inexperienced – only two returning players on offense, which were offensive lineman and only four returning defensive players — he is proud of how his team fought and improved to host the Regional final of the playoffs.
“I am very proud of what we were able to do on the field. I talked to the kids about that. I am extremely proud of this group of kids. We came along way to be able to share the Centennial League Championship, but it is just disappointing when you go out like we did tonight,” Zimmerman said.