Granted two extra games on their 2020 ledger, the Jefferson Township High School football team just might’ve saved the best for last.
Michael Gould scored two of his three touchdowns in the fourth quarter of a Friday night showdown against Lakeland Regional, accounting for all but one of the Falcons’ points in a 19-12 victory. Andrew Weber had two interceptions, including one in the final frame that set up Gould’s clincher just past the midway part of the period.
With the win, Jefferson (4-2) clinches their first pair of consecutive winning seasons since 2012-13.
“I feel great because of how gritty that we played tonight,” head coach Jerry Venturino said. “We played with grit. I asked the kids to do two things tonight: play tough and play 48 minutes hard. That’s exactly what they did. It means that they’re listening.”
Gould earned his first touchdown on a 20-yard run at the end of the Falcons’ opening possession. Lakeland (1-3) responded with a scoring hookup between Todd Guyer and David Hammerle on the first play of the second quarter.
“It feels good, but I can’t do it by myself,” Gould said of his impactful evening. “My linemen and (fullback Jeff Daynus) lead blocking for me all game. I don’t get anything without them.” Confronted with the news of consecutive winning seasons, Gould expressed hope for both the present and future.
“Coach V has really been turning this program around,” Gould remarked. “I guarantee you, in five years, we’re going to win a state championship. I swear.”
A defensive struggle ensued over the next two minutes of game time, with Jefferson’s lone scoring opportunity sailing wide left in the first half’s final seconds through a missed 35-yard field goal. Lakeland invaded Jefferson’s 30-yard-line or beyond on four occasions in the first half, but the Flacons allowed only the aforementioned touchdown.
The Jefferson defense forced three turnovers through traditional means and three more through downs. Weber’s two interceptions each came in the second half while Jason Eisele had one in the first. Rory Coyle also picked up two sacks, while Dylan Patscher added another, his being a takedown that took the Lancers out of the Falcon red zone on a third-and-goal.
Coyle remarked that things were a bit difficult with Lakeland’s natural grass field, a rarity in modern football, but he was pleased that he and his unit were able to make a difference.
“I just tried to find a way to get different moves, at least pressure, in the backfield to help my team win,” Coyle said. “I figured there that was no specific plan. I simply used what I’ve been taught by my coaches, and that’s pretty much it. We just have each other’s backs. When our backs are against the wall, we all trust each other to do our assignments. We have everything to lose if we don’t do it properly. We trust each other. It’s a bunch of brothers working together.”
Coyle’s second sack also came on a third down, forcing the Lancers into a punt. Gould helped put things away with his 35-yard run into Lakeland territory, assisted by a 15-yard facemask. After chipping away with some more ground antics from Gould and an aerial attack from Erik Garv, the former finally put things away with a single-yard punch in to give the Falcons the lead for good at the 6:51 mark of the fourth quarter.
Less than a minute of game time later, Weber’s interception, his fifth of the season, send the Jefferson contingent into hysterics. Gould immediately capitalized with a 25-yard run to glory that created a 19-6 lead. Lakeland made a last-ditch effort through a Carter Pagan touchdown reception, but big plays from Jefferson’s special teams sealed the deal. The Falcons blocked the ensuing extra point and recovered an onside kick to create the final margin and run out the clock.
“We knew this game was going to be a running game, so to win this one was great,” Weber said. “(The winning record) feels great, especially for us seniors. When we were younger, we weren’t very good. To win like we’ve had over the past two years, it feels great.”
Jefferson has one more opportunity to play in Oak Ridge next weekend, as they’ll take on Montville at 7 p.m. next Friday night in their final schedule contest of the season.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags