Jays' Nest: JHS brings postseason football home

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A long field goal last Saturday in Grafton by Connor Fuchs was the spark Jamestown High School was in search of heading into the postseason.

The senior booted a wind-aided, 44-yard three-pointer through the goalposts and the Blue Jays sprang to life. Jamestown running back Jared Harr scored the next four touchdowns of the game, helping the Blue Jays demolish the Spoilers 52-15.

"It wasn't until Connor's kick sailed through that it's like, we woke up," Jamestown coach Bill Nelson said. "We went three-and-out on defense, got the ball and went right back down and scored.

"That jump-started everything."

But Nelson is hoping a big play won't be needed to light the fire tomorrow. Jamestown hosts Watford City at 2 p.m. in the quarterfinals of the Class AA state playoffs, the first postseason game held at Ernie Gates Field of any kind since 2007.

"It's pretty special, because it's something that we feel like has been a long time coming," Nelson said. "The kids have worked extremely hard. They deserve it, and it's one of those where we want this to be the first of many down the line."

Jamestown buried Watford City 43-6 at Ernie Gates on Sept. 1, but that result is fairly deceiving. Jamestown trailed 6-3 at the half before injuries began to mount for the Wolves.

The Jays scored 40 unanswered in the second half. It was just the second game of the season for either team.

"We were just physically exhausted in the second half," Watford City coach Justin Johnsrud said. "We were down two starters coming into that game and we lost a third one in the first half. We were down to playing 13 kids and a couple of them sophomores who really weren't scheduled to play a lot."

Down two defensive lineman coming into the game, senior linebacker Blake Bigelow separated his shoulder in the first half. Bigelow is back on the field for the Wolves, one of eight two-way starters for tomorrow's kickoff.

Watford City is rolling, having won six straight games, including victories over Bismarck St. Mary's and Wahpeton. Running backs Carter Zenz (512 yards) and Kason Hartel (420) have combined for 932 of the Wolves' 1,386 rushing yards and 6 total touchdowns.

"We still play ironman football with about 15 kids," Johnsrud said. "We've gotten a little better at spelling them and giving them a rest. We need to take care of the football. That's our No. 1 thing."

Senior quarterback Cooper Knutson has completed 32 of 89 passing attempts for 667 yards this season, with six touchdowns and six interceptions. Watford City is minus 2 in the turnover battle (17-15).

"They're a completely different football team than the first time we played them," Nelson said. "We expect a battle, plain and simple."

It's no secret what weapons Jamestown plans to utilize. Harr has piled up 856 yards and nine scores on 142 carries heading into the postseason.

Zach Petrek (418 yards), Brandon Dallmann (308) and Jared Kallenbach (219) are also tough to bring down out of the backfield for Jamestown, which has rang up 2,054 rushing yards as a team.

Junior linebacker Aaron Mack leads the Blue Jay defense with 70 tackles. Junior defensive end Jacob Schulte has piled up four sacks. Jamestown is plus 8 in turnovers (12-20).

"We want to run the ball and stop the run, and we gotta take care of the ball—I don't care if it's running or passing," Nelson said. "(Watford City) plays with a tremendous amount of physicality and enthusiasm, and we have to match that."

But Nelson explained that shouldn't be a problem, being it's the first playoff game at Ernie Gates in some time.

"The kids are amped up, jacked up and ready to go."