Special season: Blue Jays hoping for Class A playoff run
The Jamestown High School football team played its first playoff game against Grand Forks Red River Oct. 29.
The last time the Jamestown High School football team found itself in the playoffs was when the five Blue Jay senior captains were freshmen.
"You don't get very many chances at something like this," Senior Adam Kallenbach said. "You have to make them count."
Kallenbach and the Jays have done a standup job of making the 2021 season count so far.
The Blue Jays rattled off a perfect 4-0 Class A, West Region and 7-2 overall record on their way to a Class A quarterfinal tilt against Grand Forks Red River. The Blue Jays hosted the Roughriders at Jamestown's Hansen Stadium Friday night. The Jays shut out Red River 35-0 to advance to the Class A semifinals.
The Blue Jays are set to host Fargo North Nov. 5 at 7 p.m.
Last season, the Jays' season was cut short in heartbreaking fashion, being forced to forfeit a Class AAA playoff quarterfinal at West Fargo Sheyenne due to known and likely positive cases of COVID-19 to players and staff. The bitter news came after the Jays rattled off wins over Dickinson, Minot, Legacy and Valley City to open the year at 4-0 for the first time since 2000.
Nelson and the Jays had qualified to appear in just its seventh Class AAA quarterfinal in 26 years.
"We would have been stretched extremely, extremely thin and going up and playing the No. 2 team in the state with less than 25 guys on the sidelines, wasn't morally or ethically safe," JHS head coach Bill Nelson said of the predicament. "It's not the way anyone would have wanted to end their season. I would go back and do a thousand things differently if I could but you can't."
The Jays weren't able to go back, but they could move forward -- and they did.
"Last year definitely left a little bit of a sour taste in our mouths with where we could have ended up and what we could have had," JHS senior captain Preston Kroeber said. "It had a lot of impact on this year. We came in thinking that we have a chance and are working to get as far as we can."
The Blue Jays opened up the 2021 campaign much the same way they began the 2020 year -- at 4-0. The team's first loss came against Fargo Shanley on Sept. 24, but the team rebounded with another three wins against Valley City, Minot and Devils Lake and one last second-loss to Mandan.
The Jays defeated Class AA defending state champs Bismarck St. Mary's 20-7 on Sept. 10.
"Our line has been blocking very well, our receivers have been doing their best getting outside, making plays, getting their blocks and just doing extra stuff," senior receiver Brode Hillstrom said. We've known each other since middle school, maybe even before that so it's been a family for a long time. Growing up together is a big part of our team chemistry and it helps us play together really well."
Nelson said the seniors have been fueled not only by their years-long connection but also by the heartbreak of last season's forfeit.
Prior to Friday, senior Jakob Schempp was the Jays' ground gainer with 108 carries for 531 yards. The senior rushes for an average of 59 yards per game. Kallenbach is the Jays' main man on the receiving end with 29 catches for 420 yards. Beach has hauled in 12 receptions for 263 yards.
Nelson's defense has racked up 13 sacks across the squad's past nine games while all nine opponents have only combined for six against the Jays' line. Colton Mewes is the Jays' leading tackler with 59 total tackles. Mewes has made 13 hits from behind the line of scrimmage.
Beach, Allmer and Mewes have combined for nine of the team's 13 total sacks.
Aden Braun is the Jays' third-leading tackler with 47 total hits but the junior is leading the team in solo hits with 32.
In addition to leading the Blue Jay offense the past five games, Jackson Walters has tabulated 51 tackles. Walters took over for starting quarterback Payton Hochhalter when Hochhalter went down with a broken collarbone in Watford City.
Through the air, Walters was 48-for-97 for a 49.48% pass completion rating. Walters had not suited up as a signal-caller since his middle school days.
"We knew that we all had to help him by stepping up and making a few more plays," Kroeber said. "I remember the first day we took him out to the field to try and teach him how to throw a few routes because he's never done it before so we just sat there running routes so he could learn how to be a quarterback."
"Jackson has taken a big step -- it's a huge role to come into and he and has played good enough to make the team better."
Blue Jays were hit with a surprise in the quarterfinals when Hochhalter suited up and took the field behind his five offensive linemen.
"I've just been doing a lot of rehab and having these guys stay after practice to help get my arm back in shape," Hochhalter said. "It was a lot of arm strengthening and making sure that my arm ability is still there and hopefully it's back to where it was.
"There was a little bit more pressure this game, but I have a great team who was there with me and support me so it was fine."
While the whole team rallied around Hochhalter Friday night, and everyone has been stepping up for the Jays' throughout the season, it has been the group of six captains who are largely responsible for bringing the Blue Jays' to a point only a handful of teams get to every year.
"There's adversity with everything," Beach said. "The game is a hard game so keeping everything under control with that much emotion and intensity is pretty difficult but as we said, we have a great group of guys. There's a lot of good people on this team."