It’s a new era for football at Jefferson, as the Falcons are part of a conference after three years wandering in the proverbial dessert as an independent.
All of Jefferson’s teams — save for football — dove into the All-American Conference waters for the 2011-12 school year.
Friday night, the Falcon gridders join the fray as they begin their 2012 season with an AAC matchup at LaBrae.
“We talked about it at practice,” Henson, the former Hall of Fame quarterback at Grand Valley, said of kicking off his eighth season at the helm of the Falcons. “It is opening week and it is a conference game — if you aren’t pumped up, something is wrong!”
The Falcons and the Vikings played a thriller, though it was contested in Week 7, in the muck and yuck in Leavittsburg.
A 27-yard touchdown pass by Connor Cleveland to Jacob Hamilton, who made a spectacular grab of the aerial, in the final half-minute of the game gave Jefferson a 13-7 win.
The Falcons, who went 7-3 in 2011, enter this matchup with a 4-3 lead in the all-time series.
But as mentioned, a new era is on hand for Falcon football and it kicks off Friday night in Leavittsburg.
“I expect a totally different game,” Henson said. “It is supposed to be dry and, plus, it is a new year.”
Jefferson lost seven lettermen to graduation from last year’s 7-3 squad, the best mark by a Falcon team since Henson’s first — the 2005 Falcons — who also went 7-3 and shared the Northeastern Conference championship with Lakeside. The title represents the most recent won by the Jefferson gridders.
“It’s business as usual,” Henson said of playing a conference game in Week 1, something that is very unusual. “We just know that this game has added importance to getting the season started right.”
While the Falcons went 7-3 last fall and missed the Division III, Region 9 playoffs by two spots, finishing 10th (the top 8 teams in each region qualify for the postseason), coach Bill Borhen’s Vikings did reach the playoffs.
After a 6-4 regular season, LaBrae finished seventh in Division IV, Region 14, but was matched up with second-seeded Orrville in a regional quarterfinal and the Vikings spanked by the Red Riders, 53-14.
The Vikings lost 14 seniors to graduation from their 2011 playoff team. However, like the Falcons, they have several quality players back.
Six-foot-7 quarterback Peyton Aldridge is back for his third season as the starter at quarterback, while tailback Carl Brown (5-11, 195 pounds) also returns and Nate Middleton (6-1, 200), who was a starter on the offensive line at guard a year ago, has morphed to fullback.
“Aldridge has a very good arm, plus, he’s 6-7,” Henson said. “Miller is a big, tough-running tailback and Miller is a very physical football player.”
Henson, whose squad will again run the spread on offense and a 4-3 on defense, is expecting another dogfight.
“They are a pro-style team that is going to use the arm of their quarterback and their big running back, play solid defense and be sound in the kicking game,” he said of LaBrae, which plays a 3-4 on defense. “They are very well-coached.
“It’s going to be a tough game.”
Henson, as is the case with most coaches in pretty much every sport, said he’s looking to his seniors to lead the way. And the Falcons have plenty of them... 18, in fact.
“Our seniors have done a great job of being leaders,” he said. “And in showing the younger kids the way we do things.”
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