The Ferris Saxons got one big play and just enough offense elsewhere, then let the defense do the rest to beat Jackson 24-7 in a first-round State 4A playoff football game Nov. 15 at Joe Albi Stadium.
Ferris moves on to the quarterfinals, where it will face Central Valley next weekend. The loss ends Jackson’s season.
Ferris (10-1) never seemed in danger of losing to Jackson (9-2), but the Timberwolves’ physicality made sure the hosts never became entirely comfortable in thinking a win was assured. No offensive juggernaut, the Saxons managed just 227 total yards.
“It was a strange game,” said Ferris coach Jim Sharkey. “It felt like we were always in control, but we were teetering at times.”
Ferris linebacker Nate Tonani said the key in this game defensively was containing Jackson running backs Taylor Cox and Riley Carr, which Ferris did a nice job of, limiting the pair to a combined 61 yards on 20 carries.
“That was one of the more physical teams we’ve played all year,” said Tonani.
An early 3-0 lead was followed by an interception by Ferris defensive back Garrett Saiki. But Ferris quarterback Connor Halliday found Jackson’s defensive line impenetrable more than once and came up short of the goal early in the second period.
An exceptional catch in the back of the end zone by Jason Bates three minutes later made it 10-0 and gave Ferris some breathing room in the second quarter. Bates, a 6-foot-3 junior, went high to take the ball away from a well-positioned defender for the 28-yard catch and score.
That was one of just eight plays for the team in the period, Jackson held on to the ball for the final 4 minutes, 6 seconds and nearly eight minutes of the quarter overall.
It turned out that the team’s time consuming offensive ways, even as the scoring disparity grew, became as much an ally for Ferris as the Saxons’ strong defensive play. The game barely took two hours to play.
Initially, Ferris backed up the Timberwolves and gave the offense the ball near midfield. But six plays later it settled on sophomore Alex Belling’s 33-yard field goal with 7:42 left in the first quarter.
But it took the Saxons just two plays and Bates’ catch, following a defensive stop, to atone.
“Jason stepped up,” said Tonani, back in the lineup full time on defense for this game. “A lot of our wide receivers stepped up.”
Ten points isn’t a big cushion in a playoff game, but for Tonani and his fellow defenders, it proved to be enough. They limited the Timberwolves to 74 yards of offense in the first half and 215 for the game. In the fourth quarter, the Timberwolves drove 74 yards for the only scoring series with Ferris already ahead 24-0.
Jackson quarterback Andy Gay opened up in the fourth quarter completing seven passes for 100 of his game-high 150 yards and the touchdown. By then it was too late.
The Saxons came out after halftime and, buoyed by Saiki’s 37-yard kickoff return, marched the rest of the way. Halliday completed four passes for 25 of the 55 yards the drive covered, hitting Gage Orosco for the 3-yard score.