It's go time: Defense leads Blue Jays into playoff game
Caleb Ellingson gets a big smile on his face when he’s reminded of his fumble return for a touchdown against Dickinson that helped propel Jamestown to the Class AAA playoffs.
“It was very exciting — a nice adrenaline rush,” the 5-foot-11, 185-pound senior safety said. “I was just dropping into the flat. Rob (Bollinger) forced the fumble, I picked it up and I went for the end zone. I knew it was a chance for me to make a play. I just had to go out and make it.”
It’s been that kind of season for Jamestown’s defense, which leads the Blue Jays into today’s Class AAA state high school quarterfinal game at Fargo South (6-3). Game time is set for 7 p.m. at South athletic field.
“We love defense,” Ellingson added. “We love shutting our opponents down and not giving up anything to them.”
The Blue Jays are giving up 14 points a game, but they’ve allowed just 27 in the past four contests.
“The defense has held steady in situations where their back has been up against the wall,” Jamestown coach Tim Fletcher said. “We’re proud of how they’ve dug their heels in. They’ve really come through in situations we’ve needed them to.”
And though Ellingson’s TD stands as Jamestown’s only defensive score, that hasn’t wavered the confidence of a unit that gives up only 214 yards per game.
“The biggest thing is they’re athletic,” Fargo South coach Troy Mattern said. “They’re gonna put seven or eight, sometimes 9 guys in the box and they’re gonna get after it. They’re gonna put pressure on us up front and give us a lot of different looks. Any time you have that many athletes on the field, they’re gonna give you a chance to make plays.”
At the forefront of that success are eight seniors.
Defensive end Rob Bollinger joins linebackers Tommy Bruns, Eathan Gumke, Triston Shipley and Marc Wagner as seniors in the team’s front seven. Cornerback Shaun Hogan and safeties Ellingson and Tyler Ukestad round out the veteran group.
“When you have a group that is not only mentally focused and dedicated but also willing to do the physical aspect of it all year, they’re going to earn everything they’ve (accomplished),” Fletcher said. “They’ve been through the thick and thin, with how we restructured the offseason program, and what we’ve done with camps. We have a lot of players attending quite a few camps, more than have ever before. That’s the kind of players and student-athletes we’re looking for.”
The front seven will be busy against South and its one-man wrecking ball. Bruins junior tailback James Johannesson has rushed for 1,928 yards and 22 touchdowns in nine games. He averages 10.3 yards every time he takes a handoff.
“I’ll say it: He’s a great running back. He is,” Fletcher said. “But you look at the film and it isn’t anything you have to come up with scheme-wise that is beyond what we’re doing. It’s about tackling; it’s about fundamentals. You don’t get second chances with this kid. You’ve got to wrap up and wrap up hard.
“And it’s gonna be like that for four quarters.”
Mattern makes no bones about his offense and its reliance on the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Johannesson, who rushed for 1,445 yards and 16 TDs as a sophomore.
“Our offense is built around Johannesson; he’s really the core of our offense,” Mattern said. “But we also have a lot of experience up front with our offensive line. We’re able to do a lot more things this year with that experience up front.”
South found itself healthy last week after struggling with injuries most of the season. That paved the way for a 49-14 win over Grand Forks Red River that locked up the top spot in the East Region.
“We’ve been missing some key components and last week against Red River was our first truly healthy game,” Mattern said. “Offensively, people saw what we did.”
Jamestown will turn to its own standout tailback in senior Taylor Orr for offense. Orr has rushed for 787 yards and six TDs this season.
“We know everything goes through Orr,” Mattern said. “We’ve been working all week to make sure we know where he’s at. We know he’s gonna get his yards. We have to make sure we eliminate the big plays.”
Getting out in front early will be key, he said.
“We need to start fast and if we do, we’re a pretty good football team,” Mattern said. “We’re two totally different teams when we get out fast versus letting teams hang around. We need to start fast and play fast.”
2013 Jamestown schedule (3-3 region, 6-3 overall)
Aug. 30 — Won 46-12 at Grand Forks Central; Sept. 6 — Won 38-6 vs. Mandan; Sept. 13 — Lost 35-7 vs. Bismarck High; Sept. 20 — Won 24-18 vs. Devils Lake; Sept. 27 — Lost 31-6 at Bismarck Century; Oct. 4 — Won 24-0 vs. Williston; Oct. 11 — Lost 8-0 at Minot; Oct. 19 — Won 17-13 at Dickinson, 2 p.m.; Oct. 25 — Won 25-6 vs. Fargo North.; Nov. 1 — at Fargo South (state quarterfinals), 7 p.m.
Jamestown season statistics
Opponents 28 23 39 39 — 129
Jamestown 20 71 62 34 — 187
Offense JHS Opp.
Passing 872 816
Rushing 1437 1117
Total 2309 933
RUSHING: Taylor Orr 155-787, Scott Nelson 60-340, Eathan Gumke 35-186, Ross Monson 71-19, Ben Hanson 19-80, Caleb Ellingson 7-27, Joey Gebhardt 5-7, Marc Wagner 1-0, Andrew Hornung 1-0, Nolan Love 1-(-1), Layne Carlson 1-(-5).
PASSING: Ross Monson 50-128-5 853, Gebhardt 5-17-0 19.
RECEIVING: Tyler Ukestad 14-246, Logan Anderson 6-191, Gebhardt 10-142, Taylor Orr 8-118, Shaun Hogan 9-59, Wagner 5-61, Ben Hanson 1-41, Scott Nelson 2-14.
SCORING: Ross Monson 10 passing TDs and 3 rushing TDs, Taylor Orr 6 rushing TDs and 1 receiving TD, Ben Hanson 1 rushing TD and 1 receiving TD and 4 field goals and 17 extra points, Scott Nelson 5 rushing TDs, Logan Anderson 4 receiving TDs, Tyler Ukestad 2 receiving TDs, Joey Gebhardt 2 receiving TDs and Eathan Gumke 1 rushing TD.
TURNOVERS: Opponents 18 (13 fumbles, 5 interceptions), JHS 14 (9 fumbles, 5 interceptions).
TACKLES (top 5): Triston Shipley 76, Eathan Gumke 60.5, Rob Bollinger 40, Tyler Ukestad 29, Marc Wagner 23.
SACKS: Logan Anderson 4.5, Gumke 4, Wagner 4, Shipley 1, Bollinger 1, Ellingson 1, Alex Zimmerman 1, Travis Beach 0.5. INTERCEPTIONS: Gumke 2, Bruns 1, Ukestad 1, Layne Carlson 1.
Sun sportswriter Chris Aarhus can be reached at (701) 952-8462 or firstname.lastname@example.org