JEFFERSON — The host Jefferson football team outplayed East Troy for the opening eight minutes of the third quarter, coming back from a seven-point deficit to make it a two-point game.
But a pick-six and a late rushing touchdown from the Trojans in the final 3:10 of the first half blew open a game for a 28-12 lead that held as the final score after the teams went scoreless for the last 24 minutes of the Rock Valley Conference contest at Jefferson High School.
“These are two pretty-evenly matched teams,” Jefferson head coach Steve Gee said. “They took advantage of a couple of mistakes, and hat’s off to them.”
The Trojans, already holding a 7-0 lead, scored less than a minute into the second quarter, but Connor Salerno returned the ensuing kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown to make it a 14-6 game.
The Eagles forced a fumble on East Troy’s kickoff return, and the teams traded punts, Ben Sukow took a bubble screen 37 yards down to the 13-yard line, and then a couple plays later, caught a 15-yard slant route in the end zone for a touchdown to make it a two-score game.
It was Jefferson’s most successful offensive drive of the game for the team that tallied 175 total yards.
“We can’t be one-dimensional. We can’t just run inside all the time or run outside all the time, and the inside game wasn’t there,” Gee said. “Some of the things I saw, I saw defensive linemen crossing the face of our offensive linemen, those are things we’ve got to work on.”
Defensively, the Eagles struggled to bring down the state’s leading rusher, Jacob Dessart, as he rushed 37 times for 178 yards and a touchdown. He entered the game averaging nearly 238 yards per game.
“During the first half, we had some issues against him,” Jefferson senior Jacob Cusack said.
At the half, Gee made an adjustment with the defensive line, which mainly forced Dessart to the outside and into the waiting arms of Cusack, who finished with 28 tackles.
Fellow linebackers Nathan Hebbe (17), Jakob Parent (17) and Hunter Boettcher (15) all got in on the action too in trying to slow down the Trojans.
“Our D-line did a great job of controlling the A and B gaps and the C gap, and they had no choice but to bounce outside, and after they bounce outside, I met them all the time,” Cusack explained. “After the game, I told him he was one heck of a runner and I’m glad to make some hits on him, and I think I did a pretty good job of controlling the yards that he got in this game.”
On East Troy’s second drive of the night, Dessart rushed for 7 yards on third and one and then another 14 yards again a couple plays later on third down to the 27-yard line.
On the next play, he completed his only pass of the night, to Jacob Price, for a 7-0 lead with 1:13 left in the first quarter.
Jefferson quarterback Ryan Brost got hit in the arm on a QB draw on the second play of their drive, fumbling the ball where the Trojans took control on the Jefferson 36-yard line.
The Trojans (6-2, 6-2 RVC) quickly moved the ball down the field, with Dessart scoring from 3 yards out just 41 seconds into the second quarter.
“Seeing Dessart running all over the field in the first half, it helps us even when we get to the playoffs and Whitewater, no matter what they do, we can find a way to make our defense solid,” Cusack said. “And after a couple times that we get hurt, we’ll find a way for our defense to stay solid, and that’s exactly what we showed tonight.”
After Jefferson (5-3, 5-3 RVC) cut the deficit to two points, the Eagles gained possession after Logan Wagner forced a fumble that was recovered by Brost at the 40-yard line and 3:25 left in the half.
Brost, a lefty, was rolling to his right when he threw across his body to a receiver. East Troy’s Zack Burke stepped in front and sprinted to the right sideline, where he beat everyone to the edge and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown.
“It’s one of those I saw coming from a mile away,” Gee said. “Once the ball was in the air, you see that kid making his move, and there’s a lesson going forward. Maybe you have to experience it to realize it doesn’t work.”
The Trojans forced a three and out, and then Dessart got them back into the red zone, where Dylan Jakscht rushed in a score from 1 yard out and the 28-12 lead.
Neither team scored in the second half.
“I was very pleased with the second half, and I thought defensively, we did a great job,” Gee said. “We just couldn’t get any points on the board in the second half.”
Brost led Jefferson with 16 carries for 68 yards while completing eight of 15 passes for 96 yards, while Ben Sukow caught three passes for 50 yards and a touchdown.
Dessart rushed the ball 37 times for 178 yards, while Jakscht had 19 carries for 66 yards.
The Eagles travel to Whitewater (2-6) next week for the regular season finale. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. at Whitewater High School.
EAST TROY 28, JEFFERSON 12
Trojans 7 21 0 0 — 28
Eagles 0 12 0 0 — 12
ET — Price 27 pass from Dessart (kick good)
ET — Dessart 3 run (kick good)
J — Salerno 88 kickoff return (kick missed)
J — Sukow 15 pass from Brost (conversion missed)
ET — Burke 45 interception return (kick good)
ET — Jakscht 1 run (kick good)
First downs — ET 14, J 14. Rushing (Att.-Yds.) — ET 57-246, J 25-79. Passing yards — ET 27, J 96. Passes (Comp.-Att.-Int.) — ET 1-2-0, J 8-15-1. Fumbles-lost — ET 2-2, J 2-1. Penalties-yards — ET 4-29, J 10-65.