EVERETT — Jackson’s Johnie Kirton did it all in last week’s key Western Conference 4A South Division game against Kamiak.
The virtually unstoppable Wolfpack senior running back rushed for more than 200 yards for the fourth straight week and his 51-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter all but sealed his team’s fourth straight victory, keeping the Timberwolves tied for first place in the league.
But the biggest play of the night was an unexpected defensive effort that prevented what appeared to be a certain touchdown for the Knights.
Leading 16-0 with the ball on the Kamiak 18, Jackson went to the air and was picked off by Kamiak linebacker Josh Reed, who then sprinted toward the Jackson goal line and looked to be headed for a score.
Enter Kirton, who eventually overtook Reed from behind and pushed him out of bounds at the Wolfpack 9.
Kirton’s tackle on the 67-yard return seemed to ignite the Jackson defense, which stiffened and eventually pushed the Knights back to the 22. A 40-yard field goal attempt by Kamiak was short and wide left.
Kirton’s touchdown-saving tackle and the defense’s crucial stand energized the Timberwolves, who went on to defeat Kamiak 23-13 Oct. 3 at Goddard Stadium.
“I knew I couldn’t let down my team,” Kirton said of the tackle. “We got into the locker room and everybody was up. They were down when they (saw) that guy break away, but I said, ‘I can’t let this guy get away.’ I needed to stop him and we did.”
Jackson coach Joel Vincent described Kirton’s effort as the defining moment of the game.
“If we give up a score before the half, it’s a whole new ball game,” Vincent said. “Going into halftime with the exact opposite, we just continued to have the momentum.”
Vincent was amazed by what he saw from the sideline.
“That was a heck of an effort by a heck of a ball player,” Vincent said. “That shows … just how much heart this kid’s got. He could have easily just said, ‘Well, that guy’s gone.’ And he didn’t.”
A much improved Jackson defense continued to wreck havoc on the opposition. The Wolfpack picked off Knights quarterback Gary Rogers twice and kept the Kamiak rushing attack in check for the entire contest.
A 67-yard interception return by senior defensive back Andrew Williams in the first quarter set up a 31-yard field goal by Nathin Bruns, as the Wolfpack took a 3-0 lead.
Williams didn’t play football his sophomore or junior years but decided to come out his senior season.
“He’s been a big factor for us,” Vincent said. “He really plays like a senior. He’s made some really big plays for us.”
Jackson took a 10-0 lead later in the quarter on a 19-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Chris Bowen to wide receiver Richie Tri, the first of two touchdowns for the duo.
Bowen and Tri hooked up for 28-yard touchdown pass late in the second quarter to give the Timberwolves a 16-0 advantage.
Tri, who also punts and returns punts, snagged an interception in the second half.
“That kid flat out hit people today,” Vincent said. “He’s come a long way in the five games he’s been a starter and he’s only going to get better.”
Neither team mustered much offense in the third quarter, but in the fourth quarter Kamiak cut its deficit to 16-6 on a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Rogers at the 4:52 mark.
Whatever momentum the Knights had was immediately snuffed out by Jackson on the first play of the ensuing drive.
Not a single Kamiak player laid a hand on Kirton, who ran for a 51-yard touchdown to boost the Jackson advantage to 23-6. Kirton finished with 247 yards and has rushed for 1,062 yards and scored 13 touchdowns in five games.
The Jackson offensive line deserves a lot of the credit for Kirton’s exploits, according to Vincent.
“They continue to mature and get better,” he said. “They’re the biggest reason he’s had success.”
Not to be outdone, the Jackson defensive line has also had a stranglehold on its counterparts. Kamiak was never able to get its running game going.
“The key to that was the guys up front on defense,” Vincent said. “Our defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage. Our linebackers are playing well. I think any time those guys do that, the other team is going to have a hard time running the ball. I was a little bit surprised we controlled the run as well as we did.”
Jackson (4-0 in the league, 4-1 overall) kept pace with Mariner (4-0, 5-0), which beat Meadowdale 33-0. The two teams are scheduled to close out the regular season on Nov. 6.
Jackson, Kamiak (3-1, 4-1) and Mariner came into the week tied for first place.
“We’re for real,” Kirton said. “People that say we ain’t ready to go. We’re ready to go.”
The Timberwolves host Meadowdale at 7 tonight at Everett Memorial Stadium. The Mavericks lost to Mariner 33-0 last week.
Vincent and his staff are trying to maintain the same approach week after week.
“We’ve really tried to stress all year that no game was more important than any other and that we were going to try and prepare the same each and every week,” Vincent said. “We’re just going to continue to do that.”
For Kirton, the emotional impact of beating Kamiak was overwhelming, as he knelt down on the artificial turf after the game with tears of happiness streaming down his face.
“I need to win this (game),” he said. “I’ll never play these guys again and I wanted to leave this school proud of myself and my team and we all did it.”