RVC football: McFarland rallies as Jefferson offense collapses
MADISON — McFarland called Jefferson’s bluff Saturday evening.
So long as senior running back Nolan Klawitter didn’t beat them, the Spartans were willing to take their chances with the remainder of the Eagles’ spread offense. It worked as host McFarland held Jefferson to 13 yards after halftime and forced three turnovers to rally for a 35-7 Rock Valley football win at Lussier Stadium in Madison.
“We had some inexperience and they put pressure on us from a lot of different angles,” Jefferson coach Steve Gee said. “We know it will be a work in progress.
“We only ran 22 plays in the second half. That’s usually two drives.”
Not only did the Eagles (1-1 RVC), with just 74 total yards and four turnovers, fail to muster any sustained offense but the giveaways sabotaged a defensive performance good enough for victory. The Spartans (2-0) scored all their points in the final 13:38 with the assistance of short fields.
Four of their scoring drives started inside the Jefferson 35 with an average length under 32 yards. The Eagles also forced three turnovers but were only able to cash in on one that started them at the McFarland 22.
“You can only dodge so many bullets,” Gee said. “When we generate three turnovers we need to score more than seven points.”
Jefferson, in an early indicator of how things would go, turned it over on its second play when Nathan Hebbe fumbled at the Spartan 48. The Eagles capped a defensive stand when senior safety Ben Sukow brought down Spartan quarterback Derek Schwarting at the 2.
McFarland got in the red zone again on its next possession but senior linebacker Justin Cusack strip-sacked Schwarting and Cory Kaiser returned the fumble to midfield. Jefferson would punt on that possession and its next one despite starting at the Spartan 37 on the later drive.
Senior corner Ryan Brost made a terrific one-handed interception of Schwarting to set the Eagles up again at the McFarland 37 only to result in another Jefferson punt. Late in the first half, the visitors reached the McFarland 11 but turned it over on downs after a holding penalty with 31 seconds before the half.
Cusack would strike again with another strip-sack of Schwarting as Jakob Parent recovered at the McFarland 21. Two plays later, Sukow made a diving grab of a 16-yard strike from Christian Chesmore for the game’s first score 12 seconds before halftime.
“Justin did a nice job of finding that angle,” Gee said. “He did it perfect both times.”
Despite having the lead and the ball to start the second half, the Eagles opted for more pass attempts (five) than rushing attempts from Klawitter (four) on their first four drives after halftime. Jefferson played three quarterbacks for the second straight week and Klawitter rushed for 222 yards in the opener.
The game swung dramatically when Tyson White picked off Brost and returned it to the Jefferson 31 late in the third quarter. On the next play, Schwarting found Mathew Jostad behind the Eagle secondary for an equalizing air strike with 1:38 left in the third quarter.
Chesmore took over at quarterback on the next Jefferson series and shorted an option pitch with McFarland recovering at the Eagle 34. White capped a six-play drive with a 2-yard TD run that put the hosts ahead for good with 44 seconds gone in the final stanza.
After a Jefferson 3-and-out, White broke loose on a second-and-20 for 44 yards before Jeremiah Price-Johnson scored from 2 yards away two plays later. Junior Logan Walker became the third Eagle quarterback on the next series and White picked him off too, with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty tacked on to put the Spartans at the Jefferson 22.
Price-Johnson capped the ensuing drive with a 10-yard TD run as the Spartans erased another second-and-20 situation. After Brost was sacked at his own 10 to turn it over on downs, the Spartans opted to give the ball to reserve running back Owen Tran for a 10-yard TD run with 28 seconds remaining.
McFarland was able to play two-deep safeties most of the contest and still negate Klawitter, who finished with 41 yards on 18 carries. Jefferson has to figure out how to make the rest of the offensive pieces fit given that the Eagles had zero yards of total offense when he wasn’t involved in the second half.
“We have to be able to run the ball when they’re in a cover-two,” Gee said. “Certainly the focus will be on fixing the mistakes we’re making and playing faster on the offensive line.”
McFarland still gained only 289 yards and 157 of those came in the final 13:45. Jefferson looks to find a way to give its defense more help than it got Saturday, starting with Friday’s visit by Evansville.
MCFARLAND 35, JEFFERSON 7
Jefferson 0 7 0 0 — 7
McFarland 0 0 7 28 — 35
First downs 5 17
Yards rushing (att-yds.) 34-29 43-217
Yards passing 45 72
Attempts 16 20
Completions 7 7
Had intercepted 2 1
Total yards 74 289
Penalties, yards 7-70 11-124
Fumbles, lost 2-2 4-2
J — Sukow 16 pass from Chesmore, Fairfield kick
M — Jostad 31 pass from Schwarting, Werwinski kick
M — White 2 run, Werwinski kick
M — Price-Johnson 2 run, Werwinski kick
M — Price-Johnson 10 run, Werwinski kick
M — Tran 10 run, Werwinski kick