Special teams come up big for Springfield

Springfield's Terell Jackson falls into the end zone for a touchdown after recovering a fumbled punt. The score gave Springfield a 27-7 lead in its 27-21 victory over Fairmont on Friday night in Springfield. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED
Springfield's Terell Jackson falls into the end zone for a touchdown after recovering a fumbled punt. The score gave Springfield a 27-7 lead in its 27-21 victory over Fairmont on Friday night in Springfield. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED

Wildcats build big lead, hang on to beat Fairmont

Springfield’s Terell Jackson saw the Fairmont punt returner signal for the fair catch, but he didn’t stop running.

“In practice we’re trained to just run straight to the end zone no matter what,” Jackson said.

Jackson got the reward all defensive linemen dream about – a touchdown. The punt was fumbled at the 8-yard line, the Wildcats' gunners – Vincent Fisher and Kendel Dolby – created a scramble for the ball and Jackson showed up, scooped up the ball at the 1 and fell into the end zone.

The score gave the unbeaten Wildcats a three-touchdown lead in the third quarter and they held on for a 27-21 victory Friday night over visiting Fairmont.

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“Our coverage team and our two gunners have done a great job getting down there and causing some problems,” Springfield coach Maurice Douglass said.

Jackson’s touchdown was the second special-teams score for the Wildcats (3-0). Anthony Brown fielded a squibbed kickoff in the second quarter and returned it 74 yards for a touchdown for a 14-7 lead. Brown, a sophomore wide receiver, burst through a hole on the left side, picked up a block from Robert Jordan and scored easily.

Fairmont (0-3) also allowed a kickoff return for a game-winning touchdown in its 21-20 season-opening loss to Centerville.

“We preach it, but we’re really struggling there, so we have to get our act together,” Fairmont coach Dave Miller said. “We’ve got to do better, we’ve got to coach better.”

Springfield's Terell Jackson celebrates with teammate Tobias Craycraft after Jackson scored on a fumbled punt return to give Springfield a 27-7 lead in its 27-21 victory over Fairmont on Friday night in Springfield. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED
Springfield's Terell Jackson celebrates with teammate Tobias Craycraft after Jackson scored on a fumbled punt return to give Springfield a 27-7 lead in its 27-21 victory over Fairmont on Friday night in Springfield. Jeff Gilbert/CONTRIBUTED

Douglass said special teams execution was emphasized this week because Fairmont ran a fake punt against the Wildcats last year. Brown, Jackson and their teammates took the message seriously.

“We work on that over and over and over again because any mistake on special teams can cost you a game,” Brown said.

The offenses – as is usually the case in Fairmont games – were a contrast in styles. Springfield went to the air to start the game and Te’Sean Smoot threw 22 yards to Ben Van Noord for a 7-0 lead.

Fairmont followed with its power running game. The Firebirds ran their first seven plays to the left behind Brian Kenrick, Kaeden Partenach and Ciano Long. Then they began to mix it up. The drive ended on Tank Gant’s 1-yard push into the end zone to tie the score 7-7 with 7:32 left in the first half. The drive covered 76 yards in 19 plays and took 14 minutes and 25 seconds off the clock. Gant finished with 101 yards on 23 carries.

Brown’s kickoff return was next. Then the Wildcats forced a fumble to get a second chance to score late in the half. After being stopped on fourth-and-goal from the 1, the Wildcats threw Fairmont quarterback Male’k Hilton for a loss, forced a fumble and Tayden Harper recovered for Springfield at the 4.

This time Smoot reached the end zone on a 2-yard sneak for a 20-7 lead. He rushed for 50 yards on nine carries and threw for 65 yards.

Fairmont’s run offense isn’t built for comebacks, but the Firebirds rallied by outgaining Springfield 298-163 and by winning time of possession 34:54 to 13:06. They caught the Wildcats thinking run when Hilton threw a short pass over the middle to Keon Wright for a 50-yard touchdown with 4:05 left in the third, cutting the deficit to 27-14.

Fairmont drove again – much more quickly than the first scoring drive – and Hilton sneaked in from the 1 with 3:39 left for the game’s final score. The Firebirds got the ball back again but were stopped on fourth down at midfield with 27 seconds left.

“I loved their response,” Miller said. “To even have a shot at the end speaks volumes to the effort of our kids in the second half. But we’ve got to stop beating ourselves. We’ve had two that were winnable games and we beat ourselves.”

Springfield held off Wayne in similar fashion to win its opener 21-14. Last week the Wildcats beat Centerville 31-24 in overtime.

“They’re going to put gray hair in my beard,” Douglass said.

Next week is a showdown at 3-0 Northmont, and Douglass wouldn’t be surprised by more of the same.

“It’ll be fun,” he said. “It’ll be fun.”