JUNCTION CITY — Junction City High experienced the highs and the lows football can bring during its 34-6 home win over Topeka High on Thursday.
The victory marks the second time this season the Blue Jays (5-1) have played the Trojans; a scheduling quandary set up a situation for the teams to have a home-and-home this fall. Junction City won that first matchup, 35-0, in Topeka on Sept. 2 in a game cut short by weather at halftime.
“Topeka High was much, much better tonight than they were in Week 1,” Junction City head coach Randall Zimmerman said. “We knew they were, and we talked to our guys about it.”
T.J. Jones, who had a remarkable first half, scored the first of his three touchdowns in the game on a 11-yard screen pass from junior starter Xavion Felton to take a 7-0 lead.
Topeka High (2-4) managed to put together a response on the ensuing drive, but stalled around midfield. A fumble by the Trojan punter gave the Blue Jays a first short field. But the Blue Jays fumbled the ball back to the Trojans.
The Trojans embarked on another long drive, but Junction City’s Terrence Tedder picked off T-High junior quarterback Peyton Wheat near midfield. Tedder returned it to Topeka’s 17-yard line, and a minute and a half later, Junction City signal-caller Xavion Felton found Damarion Sellers for a 18-yard touchdown pass. It was Sellers’ first touchdown reception of the 2021 season.
Felton, a junior who started this year at fullback, was in command throughout the first half.
“(Felton’s) really settled in,” Zimmerman said. “He really has. He’s made big improvements from Week 3 to Week 4 to Week 5 to today.”
Down 13-0, Topeka High made its way into Junction City territory for the first time of the night before the Blue Jay defense stiffened up 20 yards away from the end zone.
Topeka was faced with a fourth-and-medium and made the decision to go for it, but senior linebacker Keghan McConnell forced Trojan running back Tylan Alejos out of bounds at the 22 — just short of the line to gain — and gave the Blue Jays the ball.
Jones grabbed his second touchdown of the game after a long drive set up a 19-yard run, pushing the hosts’ lead to 20-0.
“T.J. was running the ball really well,” Zimmerman said. “The kids up front also did a really nice job. Topeka High is so big, strong and physical up front, and they’re as athletic as they can be, but our offensive line really controlled them well.”
Topeka High showed signs of life immediately following the third Junction City score — returning the kick well into Blue Jay territory — but a holding penalty negated the return and moved the visitors back into their own half of the field.
Things got worse for T-High on that drive when a Trojan runner coughed up the ball. Junction City was there to snatch it, giving the Blue Jays the ball at Topeka’s 22 with little more than a minute to play in the half.
The Blue Jays faced a third-and-long but Felton found Sellers for the first down with seconds to play in the half. Jones then glided his way into the end zone from three yards out to extend the lead to 27-0 with just six seconds remaining in the second quarter.
Topeka High found its first real success of the game right after the break.
The Trojans forced Junction City’s first punt of the game on the opening possession of the second half and then drove the field and finally crossed the goal on a 2-yard run from Alejos, cutting Junction City’s advantage to 27-6 after senior defensive end Rudy Vargas blocked the Trojan extra point.
“We were very flat (in the second half),” Zimmerman said. “It just seemed like things happened so easy for us in the first half we just thought that was going to happen in the second half without much effort. It didn’t quite happen that way.”
After finding a way to key on Wheat running the ball in the first half, Alejos found his stride, extending multiple Trojan drives and keeping the ball out of the hands of the explosive JC offense.
Junction City senior fullback Randall Banks fumbled deep in Trojan territory following the Alejos score, setting up another long T-High drive. Junction City’s defense nearly had a three-and-out, but a pass interference call gave Topeka a fresh set of downs.
“It was just so frustrating on offense in the second half,” Zimmerman said. “We made mistakes. We moved the ball really, really well. And then we’d get penalties or we wouldn’t execute quite right. We still have growing pains but we’re getting better.”
A big sack by senior Jaylen Holloway set up a third-and-long for the Trojans, which they did not convert. A fourth-down try wasn’t successful, either, giving Junction City the ball near its own 20.
Though Junction won the game, it didn’t come away unscathed Thursday.
With 5:35 to play Jones ran toward the Blue Jay sideline, where Topeka’s defense ripped him to the ground.
Junction City’s medical staff and assistant coaches swarmed to the junior, who writhed on the ground, unable to get back up.
Jones was put in a splint and had to be taken off the field by EMTs on a stretcher.
“That was a tough injury,” Zimmerman said. “T.J.’s a fighter. He’s a very, very competitive kid and I love him to deathm just like I love every one of these kids.”
Jones leads the team in all-purpose yards and is a focal point of Junction City’s offense.
The Blue Jays had one final spark in the victory.
Following a punt at the end of the drive when Jones suffered his injury, Topeka tried to draw closer one more time.
But McConnell picked off Wheat and returned it 73 yards for a score.
“It was a huge play for us,” Zimmerman said. “It really just settled everybody down there a little bit. A touchdown on that drive would’ve gotten them within two scores, and it was making me a little nervous because we were very flat in the second half. And then when T.J. went down, we were incredibly flat. But Keghan made the play and the other 10 guys on the field got out in front of him.”
The Blue Jays will hit the road next week to face Emporia and attempt to pick up their fifth straight win.
“Emporia’s a tough place to play for us,” Zimmerman said. “We’ve got to put a good week of practice together and get ready to compete down there.”
JUNCTION CITY 34,
TOPEKA HIGH 6
Topeka High 0 0 6 0
Junction City 7 20 7 7
Junction City — Jones 11-yard pass from Felton (PAT Good) 9:21
Junction City — Sellers 18-yard pass from Felton (PAT No Good) 9:31
Junction City — Jones 19-yard run (PAT Good) 2:17
Junction City — Jones 3-yards run (PAT Good) 0:06
Topeka High — Alejos 2-yard run (PAT blocked) 5:47
Junction City — McConnell interception return (PAT good)