Keghan McConnell

In this file photo, Manhattan High’s Joe Hall (3) is tackled by a Junction City linebacker Keghan McConnell during the Blue Jays 37-21 loss in Manhattan on Sept. 10 in Manhattan. The Blue Jays have been led by their defense as they take their one-loss resume into playoffs when they host Haysville Campus (1-7) on Friday. 

After a blowout 48-8 win over Highland Park, Junction City finished the regular season with a 7-1 record.

The Blue Jays will host at least the first two games of the playoffs starting on Friday when they welcome Haysville-Campus (1-7). 

Junction City has gone through many roadblocks to get through the season: They have dealt with injuries, youth and inexperience and on the field mistakes resulting in penalties.

“I think our kids have grown quite a bit,” coach Randall Zimmerman said. “We have had a lot of injuries along the way. Lots of different alignments. Keep trying to help our kids grow up a little bit. I am proud of the improvement our kids have made.”

With starting senior quarterback David Rowell and star junior running back TJ Jones out due to injury, the Blue Jays are limited of weapons offensively – which adds more emphasis on the defense.

The glue for this season has no doubt been the defense, which has held the Blue Jays' opponents to an average of 11 points per game. Zimmerman said focusing on the defense is how this team will be successful in the playoffs.

“You got to play to your strength, and our strength we know is our defense,” Zimmerman said. “We have had so many different alignments offensively. It is high school, (so) you can’t recruit, you try to adjust to what you are doing that best fits your kids.”

Zimmerman said the passing production is getting better under junior quarterback Xavion Felton. Even with how important it has been for the defense to be leading the way – whether it was getting big defense holds in the red zone, forcing turnovers and setting up the offense with good field position- the passing game still needs to be able to be productive to be successful in the playoffs.

“We need to be able to throw the ball,” Zimmerman said. “We are getting better (throwing the ball). We are getting better with our reads. We will throw the ball and be able to run the ball when we need to be able to.”

The defense playing to its best against Haysville Friday along with continued improvement offensively is the ideal scenario for the Blue Jays to get through the first round.

“We need to be good defensively, and we have been really good all year long,” Zimmerman said. “It needs to be that way again Friday night. Haysville will try to run a flex-bone offense to try to take advantage of undisciplined play. We got to be really disciplined with our eyes and be in position to make plays. I am very confident our defense will show up and play.”

At times Zimmerman said it frustrated him during the regular season when the offense would put the defense in a really tough position, but other than that, he has been pleased with how the offense has progressed this season given the obstacles it has gone through.

If the offense can show its improvement in the playoffs, then this team may be able to get further than most think. But even with the hopes of strong offense, the key to state is the defense.

“I am very pleased with what our coaches have been able to do to put our kids in good position to have success,” Zimmerman said. “But our defense is definitely what we have to lean on. We got the experience there, and most of our returners are on defense. We need to be solid there, and we have been. Our coaches have done a great job with those kids. Our kids have done a great job buying in. They are advancing and moving forward during the year.”

Junction City will host Haysville-Campus Friday night at Blue Jay Stadium. 

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