What was a tight game in the first half turned into a blowout quickly after teams returned from the locker room. In the end, the Golden Eagles took the season opener 54-19. Jackson Bell rushed for 148 yards on seven carries for the winners and scored three touchdowns, while Dominique Thomas added 122 yards on 14 carries with a touchdown.
“We were just trying to figure ourselves in the first half and we made some mistakes and there were some penalties that cost it. A lot of the first-game stuff came in the first half,” Jacksonville coach Clint Smith said. “In the second half we settled in on offense and defense. We also got some valuable playing time for our young guys that’ll help in the future.”
The 20-7 score at the end of the first half didn’t indicate how close the game felt at the time. After Bell, the quarterback, led the Golden Eagles down the field on the second possession of the game, with Bell scoring on an 8-yard run, the Raiders immediately responded.
After Pleasant Valley traveled down the field, and Dalton Bean tied things up, the Raiders recovered an onside kick. However, the visitors were unable to continue driving until the middle of the second quarter.
“We were owning it up,” Pleasant Valley coach Jeff Davis said. “We just kind of spun our own wheels in the first quarter, but I don’t know what happened after that.”
After Pleasant Valley traveled from its own 9-yard line to inside the 20, the Raiders were knocking at the door to take the lead midway through the second quarter. However, J.J. Johnson had other plans.
The Jacksonville junior saw an opportunity to be a game changer and took it, scooping up a fumble to the right side to give the Golden Eagles the ball.
Three plays later, Bell ran 58 yards into the end zone. Then Johnson back at it again for Pleasant Valley’s next drive, this time intercepting a pass and returning it 16 yards for a score.
“The team just needed me to make a big play,” Johnson said.
Yet the true explosion on the scoreboard didn’t come until the third quarter, but when it came, it came quickly.
Within a minute and a half of the second half, Bell had rushed for his third touchdown of the night. After a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, it only took Jacksonville 30 seconds to score again, this time from a rush by Thomas. Two drives later, Sid Thurmond returned a punt 65 yards for a touchdown.
“We made some plays in all aspects of the game,” Smith said. “Overall there were a lot of positives. Hopefully we got some of the rust off. It was good to get a win.”
The second half wasn’t all bad for Pleasant Valley, though. Drew Lewiski returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter, and quarterback Lucas Ford went untouched for a 28-yard score in the fourth.
“We’ve got a good football team,” Davis said. “We just have to play a full game.”
Jacksonville also saw late-game touchdowns from freshmen running backs Tae Ackles and Nick Gangwer.
“We’ve got some young guys that are up there,” Smith said. “We’re going to have to develop some depth and tonight was good toward working on that.”
Pleasant Valley was led on the ground by Lewiski, who finished with 58 yards on 14 rushes. Ford threw for 73 yards on 4-of-8 passing and rushed three times for 39 yards.
Both teams begin region play next week with Jacksonville traveling to Class 4A, Region 5 foe Hokes Bluff and Pleasant Valley visiting Class 2A, Region 6 opponent Vincent.
Brandon Miller covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575 or follow him on Twitter @bmiller_star