By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
As the clock hit zero, the end result of Rockford Jefferson’s 28-21 win over Rockford Guilford Oct. 21 meant both teams would finish 4-5 and be out of the playoffs. But digging a little bit deeper, you could see so much more was on the line.
“We didn’t make the playoffs, but we’re the city champs,” Jefferson Head Coach Rick Schmitz said. “That was one of our goals when I came in two years ago. They’ll remember being the city champs a lot longer than they will spoiling Guilford’s playoff chances.”
More than anything else, the game is a seismic shift in the Rockford football scene. Guilford had not only made the playoffs seven straight years, the longest streak in the NIC-10, but they had not lost to one of its fellow Rockford public schools since 2003.
“It’s an amazing feeling to finally control the city in football,” Jefferson running back Josh Woodford said after running for 143 yards and three touchdowns. “I credit everything to my teammates — they played their heart out. I just got behind them, and they carried me tonight.”
Things started slow for Jefferson. After the Guilford defense held on a 13-play Jefferson drive, Vikings running back Dontrel Chance took the next play 86 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 Guilford lead.
“I’m OK with that,” Schmitz said. “I knew he was going to get his yards. I thought that we were able to move the ball on them, and I knew we could get back up and down the field. Our kids never dropped their heads. They hung in there, and that’s who we are.”
The J-Hawks responded with an 11-play, 78-yard drive that was capped by a 16-yard touchdown run by Kenyatter Larkins. The J-Hawks were successful on the 2-point conversion and went up 8-7 at the half.
After the break, Jefferson again controlled the clock, this time going on a 14-play, 96-yard drive, eating up nearly 8 minutes of clock with Woodford scoring from 3 yards out. Jefferson led 16-7 after going for 2.
Chance responded with another short touchdown run and converted the 2, pulling the Vikings to within 1. But Jefferson again ate up yards and clock behind Woodford, who scored from 1 and 8 yards to put the J-Hawks up by 13.
Jefferson was able to control the clock and frustrate Guilford and their star running back Chance all night. The senior did run for 152 yards in his final game, but only ran for 66 yards on 20 carries outside of the big touchdown.
“All week in practice, we talked about containing, making that web and making it tough for him to run,” Woodford said. “We love 8- or 9-minute drives, and that’s what we accomplished today.”
Guilford did get a late score on a 10-yard pass from Nick Hyatte to Alex Trautmann. But the Vikings did not recover the onside kick, and their playoff hopes fell to the wayside.
And with Guilford’s hopes dashed, the J-Hawks hope it is a new beginning for Jefferson football.
“One thing we stressed before this game was pride,” Jefferson quarterback Joe Ward said. “When coach Schmitz first came, he said there was going to be a big change in Rockford. We were done getting beat up on, done with the bullies. It’s definitely a change.”
In other NIC-10 action:
• Belvidere overcame four first-half turnovers to top Belvidere North 28-21 to qualify for the playoffs. Marcus Gooden ran for 116 yards to lead the Bucs, while the great Blue Thunder senior Austin Smaha ran for 171 yards in his final game.
• Machesney Park Harlem used 113 yards from Brenton Benedict to finish up an 8-1 regular season and end Freeport’s playoff chances with a 47-18 win over the Pretzels. Prolific quarterback Alex Bennett did throw for 258 yards in his last game leading Freeport.
• Rockton Hononegah rebounded from their shocking loss to Freeport the previous week, and more importantly, picked up their sixth win to qualify for the playoffs, topping Rockford East 63-0.
• Rockford Boylan Catholic wrapped up another perfect regular season, while handing Rockford Auburn its second consecutive winless season, beating the Knights 56-0.
From the Oct. 26-Nov. 1, 2011, issue