If the Jefferson Falcons have any designs on winning a championship on the gridiron this fall, tonight’s game in Cortland against the Lakeview Bulldogs would go a long way toward accomplishing that.
Jefferson (4-2, 2-2 in the All-American Conference) faces a must-win game tonight against AAC National Division co-leader Lakeview (4-2, 3-0), which shares the league lead with Liberty (5-3, 3-0).
If coach Jimmy Henson’s Falcons are to have a shot at at least a share of Jefferson’s first championship since his first Jefferson team — the 2005 Falcons — shared the Northeastern Conference championship with Lakeside, they must prevail tonight in Trumbull County.
“In terms of everything we want to accomplish the remainder of the year, this game is a big game,” Henson admitted. “I am sure that Lakeview feels the same way.”
The Bulldogs of 13th-year coach Tom Pavlansky (87-57, .604) have won three straight games, knocking off Champion (21-7), Girard (17-12) and LaBrae (28-21). Their first win was impressive, a 26-23 season-opening triumph at Madison. Lakeview bowed to Struthers in Week 2, 32-14, and to Howland in Week 3, 22-18.
Lakeview, a Division IV school, is 10th in Region 13 in the playoff chase. Last season was the first in three years the Bulldogs, who finished 6-4, did not reach the playoffs, which they have done in three of the last five seasons, though.
The Bulldogs run a spread of similar to Jefferson and play an even-front defense.
“They are very well coached and don’t make many mental mistakes,” Henson said of the Bulldogs. “They are going to make us earn everything we get.”
Lakeview is led by multi-dimensional threat Elijah Henderson, a 6-foot-4, 190-pound wide receiver/defensive back. He has rushed for 460 yards on 75 carries (6.1 average) and 3 touchdowns, while catching 23 passes for 281 yards (12.2 average) and 1 touchdown. He has averaged 24.7 yards on 7 kickoff returns and 8.1 yards on 7 punt returns. Erich Scmitt, like Chiacchiero a first-year starter at quarterback, has completed 50 of 103 passes (48.5 percent) for 652 yards and thrown 5 touchdown passes, being picked off only once.
Justin Journey, a 5-9, 170-pound junior inside linebacker/ running back is strong defensively.
(Henderson) is their best player,” Henson said. “He lines up at quarterback, at times. They try to get him the ball any way they can.
“(Journey) makes a lot of big plays on defense.”
The Falcons snapped a two-game skid with a 43-20 homecoming victory against visiting Newton Falls last week.
Quarterback Tony Chiacchiero completed 11 of 15 passes for 169 yards and threw three touchdown strikes, while tailback Scott Davidson ran for 130 yards on 20 carries, including a 37-yard touchdown dash.
Brett Powers hauled in two scoring strikes from Chiacchiero, from 15 and 25 yards, and also snared a 35-yarder from Cole Erdel. Kyle Ashburn ran a kickoff back 85 yards for another score.
“In the first half, we were able to get the offense going and capitalize on turnovers and have a nice lead at the half (30-7),” Henson said. “The second half was sloppy, but we were able to refocus and put the game away in the fourth quarter.”
That will be more problematic this week, first, because Lakeview presents a much stiffer challenge than 1-5 Newton Falls did, and second, because wide receiver Erdel and linebacker Justin Butler were ejected from the Newton Falls game and must sit out this week’s game, as per OHSAA rules. That’s ironic because Jefferson is by far and away the least-penalized team in the area, having been flagged only 22 times for 181 yards in six games this season.
Henson said Jesse Skvarek will replace Erdel at receiver and Davidson will do double-duty, playing linebacker in place of Butler, as well as his role as feature back.
“The officials called it as they saw it and we must respect that,” Henson said. “It makes a little thinner and some different guys will get their chances as we rotate fresh players in.”
If the Falcons are to prevail, their offense — led by Chiacchiero, whose 991 yards passing, 11 touchdown passes and 65.5-percent completion percentage lead Ashtabula County and who will all but assuredly become the first Falcon quarterback to reach 1,000 yards through the air since Angelo Mirando in 2003 (1,528 yards) — have to find receivers Jacob Hamilton (19 catches, 289 yards), Ashburn (16, 236), Powers (10, 174) and Skvarek (9, 170).
And Davidson, whose 648 yards on the ground have him on pace to be Jefferson’s first 1,000-yard rusher since J.J. Mihoci set the school record in 2006 with 1,381 yards on 204 carries in 2006, will have to again be the hammer.
Jefferson must also avoid turnovers as they are minus-3 on the plus/minus chart, compared to Lakeview’s plus-4.
Defensively, the Falcons cannot give up the big play, which hurt them in their two losses, vs. Campbell Memorial (20-14) and especially at Liberty (47-32).
Henson knows his squad must be sharp tonight to earn what would be its biggest win of the season, to date. Lakeview leads the all-time series, 2-1, winning the most-recent matchup in Week 8 2009 at Lakeview, 34-13. Jefferson won the first clash, 40-0, in 1971 at its former home before FPS, Memorial Field, while the Bulldogs turned the tables the following fall in Cortland, 6-0.
“We have to keep mental mistakes to a minimum,” Henson said. “We know they are going to play good, sound football. We can’t give them easy opportunities.
“We must win the turnover battle (Jefferson is minus-3 on the plus/minus chart this season).
“And we have to slow down (Henderson). He can create big plays at any time.”
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