Hoover 14 - Jackson 13
JACKSON TWP. Heavy is the head that wears the crown, the old saying goes.
Well, from a local perspective, heavy is the trophy in the Battle for the Rail rivalry.
Hoover head coach Brian Baum was about to poke fun at one of his players for struggling to lift it Friday night.
“Then I picked it up and thought, ‘Whoa, there is a little weight to this thing,’” Baum said with a laugh.
The visiting Vikings did not shy away from the weight of the moment and pulled out a 14-13 win at Robert Fife Stadium in the 90th edition of the North Canton-Jackson series.
A COVID-limited crowd of 850 watched the two teams battle in a game with two big turnovers, two big momentum swings and — much to Jackson’s chagrin for the second straight week — a failed PAT. It was the sixth straight year the road team won in the series, and the fifth straight year the game was decided by 7 points or less.
“I know all our seniors are really excited. We wanted this win more than anything,” Hoover senior quarterback Connor Ashby said. “There are a lot of seniors that are going on to play football in college, but they’ll never forget this game. I’m going to go play baseball (at Kent State), but I’ll never forget this game.”
Down 13-7 early in the fourth quarter, Hoover’s Elliot Tornow took a short pass over the middle from Ashby, turned up the field and was gone for a 60-yard touchdown. Robby Smart’s point-after kick put the Vikings up 14-13.
“I couldn’t have got that done without my teammates, especially the line,” said Tornow, who finished with seven receptions for 110 yards. “That’s what allowed Connor to sit in the pocket for that long and for me to get open across the field. Once I caught the ball, I trusted my teammates to get those two blocks, and I took off. I saw the end zone and I was going to make sure I got there.”
Jackson went three-and-out on its next possession, then got the ball back on its own 20 with 5:33 left. Johnny Kulich hit Carson Junker for 35 yards on a fake punt on fourth-and-10, advancing Jackson to Hoover’s 28. But the drive stalled and Jackson turned it over on downs with 3:02 left.
The Polar Bears never got the ball back.
After Jackson had burned two timeouts, Ashby found Zach Yun for 12 yards to convert a third-and-7. The game eventually ended when the clock ran out on Ashby’s punt from the Hoover 46.
Hoover lost running back Drew Robinson to injury early in the game. Though the Vikings continued to make an effort to run the ball, they were somewhat one-dimensional.
It’s not the worst thing when that one dimension has a lot of Ashby involved.
He completed 17 of 24 passes for 225 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He added another 53 yards on the ground on 15 carries.
“I always want the ball, so I’m always ready for this moment,” he said.
Senior Brock Henne caught four passes for 58 yards and a touchdown for Hoover (4-2, 3-2), which goes into its bye week for the Division II playoffs on a three-game winning streak.
“I love the resiliency,” Baum said. “They’re showing some grit. These are tough kids. They go and battle. We’re not the biggest boys out there, but we’ll fight like heck for four quarters.”
Jackson’s last two weeks have been unnecessarily cruel.
The Polar Bears (2-4, 1-4) battled undefeated Perry and lost 14-13 last week when a point-after kick was missed late in the third quarter.
This week it was early in the fourth quarter when the snap on the point-after try went awry, resulting in a second straight 14-13 loss (and third on the season).
Kulich had just intercepted Ashby in Jackson territory. Four plays later, Brenden Craig scored on an 18-yard TD run to highlight a 124-yard, 16-carry performance for the speedy junior. Jackson led 13-7 after the PAT failed.
That left the door open for Tornow’s big play, which came right after a 17-yard catch by the senior turned a second-and-20 into a third-and-3.
“He kicked it in there,” Baum said of the 60-yard TD.
Hoover slowly regained field position over the course of the first half after taking over on its own 1 on its first possession. A stellar opening Jackson drive went for naught when Craig fumbled the ball and Hoover’s Zander Bugara jumped on it.
A 12-play, 52-yard drive late in the second quarter lived on when Henne drew a pass interference penalty on fourth down from Jackson’s 32. It ended when Ashby zipped a 4-yard TD pass to Henne in the corner of the end zone with 1:26 left in the second quarter.
Jackson needed a spark and got it from Kulich.
The senior made an incredible leaping catch over the back of Bugara for a 19-yard touchdown with only 14 seconds left. It was Kulich’s third reception on a nine-play, 70-yard drive that tied the game 7-7.
He finished with 66 yards on five receptions for Jackson, which is at Brunswick next week to open the Division I playoffs.
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