MONROE -- For upcoming opponents scouting the Jackson football team, Friday night's season-opening game between the Timberwolves and Monroe Bearcats provided one bit of insight.
Don't kick the ball to Keynan Foster.
The wide receiver and defensive back returned a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns and added a receiving TD in the Timberwolves' 59-37 non-conference victory.
"Keynan played a great individual game, obviously," Jackson head coach Joel Vincent said. "Anybody who came here and watched it saw that. It was pretty extraordinary."
One of the biggest strengths of the Monroe football team was supposed to be its skill position players, but it was the Timberwolves' skill people who proved they are still the class of the Wesco 4A.
The speed of Foster and the rest of the Jackson group wore down the Bearcats in the matchup of last year's Wesco 4A North and 4A South champions. Jackson defeated the Bearcats in week one a year ago, and went on to defeat them again in the Wesco championship game.
"This might be one of the fastest teams in Jackson history and I've been here since we started," Vincent said. "A lot of team speed. Obviously opponents who are getting ready for us are going to have to game plan for that stuff. We might see some interesting things defensively, but it's really nice to have that team speed. It allows for those explosive plays you see on offense and allows them to make up ground on defense."
Though the Bearcats won the Wesco North last year, they weren't happy with how they played against nonconference opponents, finishing those games with a 1-4 record. Monroe head coach Dick Abrams said prior to the season that his team had put a lot of emphasis on improving that record, but the Bearcats were simply overmatched Friday.
"They (the Timberwolves) really impressed me," Abrams said. "Everybody who watched the game would be impressed with their speed. They have some guys who can motor. We felt like we had speed going in, but we weren't close to their speed."
On its opening possession, Jackson drove 67 yards in six plays to take a 7-0 lead. Junior quarterback Alex Cheesman, taking the place of last year's starter, Conor Plaisance, completed five of his six passes for 67 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown pass to John Robert-Woolley.
Cheesman finished 13-for-28 for 140 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception.
After the Bearcats' first offensive drive stalled, the defense held Jackson to a three-and-out. Deep in their own territory, Jackson lined up to punt on fourth down, but Hunter Bingham came around the outside untouched to block Ruben Robles' punt attempt. Bingham recovered the ball in the end zone for a Monroe touchdown. After the extra point, the score was tied 7-7.
From that point forward it was all Jackson.
Senior Nick White gave the Timberwolves the lead again later in the first quarter, scoring on a 1-yard run out of the Wildcat formation. Then Foster went to work. He returned a punt 49 yards to give Jackson a 21-7 lead and caught a 5-yard touchdown pass early in the second quarter to give the Timberwolves a 28-7 advantage. Jackson added 10 more points before halftime and led 38-7 at the break.
Trey Robinson and Foster added kickoff returns of 95 and 78 yards, respectively, in the second half.
"(I saw) a lot of blocking from my teammates," Foster said. "I couldn't do it without those guys, so my special teams really helped out."
Making Foster's performance even more impressive, Monroe was trying to keep the ball away from him.
"We tried all night to kick away from him," Abrams said. "We tried on the punts to kick away from him. It's hard, especially in our first game when your coverage isn't real secure at any rate, then if the kick is not perfect, the guy has a chance for a return. We've got to get better at that."
Monroe debuted its new spread offense led by junior Andrew Zimmerman and the results were mixed. The first-year quarterback finished 13-for-27 for 185 yards and a touchdown, but he also threw three interceptions, including one returned 70 yards by Robles that set up White's 1-yard touchdown run.
"He's learning," Abrams said of Zimmerman. "I told our guys if nothing else, we were going to learn a lot about ourselves tonight and I think we did. We learned some things that we can do and we learned some things that we can't do and some things we got to get better at."
Though the Timberwolves won handily, Vincent wasn't satisfied.
"If I had to grade this performance, it was a C-plus," he said. "We put the ball on the ground a couple of times and we pride ourselves on really taking care of the football. We didn't do a good job in that category. I don't know how many missed tackles we had, I'm going to go back and watch the film, but I know it was a lot. I think that brings the grade down a little bit. We try to go out on the field and achieve greatness every time we take the field on Friday and we didn't achieve greatness tonight."
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At Monroe H.S.
Jackson 21 17 21 0 — 59
Monroe 7 0 14 16 —37
J—John-Robert Woolley 8 pass from Alex Chessman (Michael Zeng kick)
M—Hunger Bingham blocked punt recovered in end zone (Tanner Ohlsen kick)
J—Nick White 1 run (Zeng kick)
J—Kenyan Foster 49 punt return (Zeng kick)
J—Foster 5 pass from Chessman (Zeng kick)
J—Wesley Love 4 run (Zeng kick)
J—Zeng 46 FG
M—Gabe Moore 17 pass from Andrew Zimmerman (Ohlsen kick)
J—Foster 95 kick return (Zeng kick)
M—Blais 19 run (Ohlsen kick)
J—Foster 78 run (Zeng kick)
J—Love 35 run (Zeng kick)
M—McKinley Braa 10 run (Bingham pass from Zimmerman)
Record—Jackson 1-0 overall. Monroe 0-1.
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