SHENANDOAH JUNCTION – Last Friday’s matchup with once-beaten James Wood High School, of Winchester, Virginia, served as an indicator as to just how much Jefferson’s football team has progressed over the last two years.
For the Cougars, the numbers looked good—very good.
After a scoreless first quarter, Jefferson took control of the game against the Colonels at every angle. The offense, led by quarterback Sammy Roberts, moved the football well. The defense clamped down hard on the Colonels, containing them to 186 yards in total offense and picking off four Jared Neal passes.
The special teams forced the James Wood team to concede a safety after a bad snap on a punt attempt had to be smothered in the end zone by punter Hunter Barnhart.
Everything added up to a convincing, 33-14 win before a crowd of more than 1,500 frenzied homecoming fans.
“It was great to come out of a game like this with a win,” Roberts said. “James Wood is a very good team.”
What made this win even more special was Jefferson sits among the leaders in the WVSSAC Class AAA playoff standings with a 7-0 mark.
The Cougars have not seen a record like this since 2005, when Jefferson went undefeated during the regular season.
“This was a big win for us,” Jefferson coach Craig Hunter said. “We took care of the ball, but there are some things we have to do a little bit better at, offensively.”
The Cougars will have some extra time to do that. Jefferson has a bye week this Friday before making the 10-mile journey to Coburn field in Martinsburg, where the Cougars take on Martinsburg in what is shaping up to be the marquee game of the Eastern Panhandle this season.
Whoever wins that game in two weeks will almost certainly gain the upper hand in the Class AAA state playoff standings. The top 16 teams in each classification qualify for the post-season.
A possible home playoff game in the first round is a possibility for Jefferson, but, for the moment, the focus is now on some intense practice sessions over the next two weeks.
“Among other things, we have to concentrate on getting everyone healthy,” Hunter said, pointing to some nagging injuries among the Cougars’ roster. “We have to work on some technical stuff. We didn’t tackle real well in this game. We’ve got to do a better job with that.”
Some of those technical issues involve doing a better job of taking advantage of scoring opportunities inside the opponents’ 20-yard line early in a game. Jefferson had some problems with that last Friday.
It wasn’t until there was 4 minutes, 34 seconds left in the first half that the Cougars finally found the end zone. Roberts hooked up with wideout Spencer Powell for an 18-yard touchdown pass, breaking a scoreless deadlock.
“It was just a scramble drill on the pass play,” Powell said. “I ran a slot pattern and was able to reach out and catch the ball.”
Oren Humphries’ extra-point kick gave Jefferson a 7-0 lead.
“We knew coming into this game we needed to prepare a lot,” Powell said. “We had to focus on defense and not give up any big plays.”
Humphries closed out the first half for the Cougars with a 27-yard field goal as time expired. Jefferson was holding on to a 10-0 lead.
“We had to make an adjustment so we could try to figure out how to get us in the end zone,” Hunter said. “Their defense shook us up a little bit in the first half.”
Once those adjustments were made, it was all Jefferson in the second half.
Roberts, who completed 9 of 17 passes for 159 yards and three touchdowns, tossed a 32-yard TD bomb to Isaiah Fritts five minutes into the second half. Roberts later threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Caysen Lanza.
Bryson Fleming scored on a 1-yard plunge in the third quarter. Five minutes earlier, Jefferson earned a safety on the bad snap from center when Barnhart was forced to fall on the football his own end zone.
Jefferson finished with 152 yards in total offense. James Wood, which scored two late-game touchdowns to avoid a shutout, out-gained the Cougars in total offense, 216-152.
But that yardage came as a result of Jefferson giving James Wood some room to move without giving up any big plays or touchdowns.
“Now, we’re going to make sure we clean all of that little stuff up,” Hunter said. “We’ll look at game films, see where we need the most work and be ready to go to Martinsburg in two weeks.”