In a classic football matchup pitting an invincible offensive force against an unmovable defensive object, it was the force which was rendered vincible.

In an important bounce-back victory, the host Jackson Ironmen (2-1) used a stifling defensive performance to knock off the highly-touted Tri-Valley Scotties (2-1) by a 24-3 score Friday night in a non-conference game matching two perennial playoff teams. Jackson High School (JHS) has advanced to the playoffs eight of the last 11 years and Tri-Valley 12 of the last 15 seasons.

The three-touchdown win provided an emotional lift to the Ironmen and their fandom after the shocking 13-10 loss at Ironton the previous week on a last-play kickoff return and avenged a 14-12 loss to the same Scotties in a home playoff game last season. Though it’s early in the season, the Ironmen figure to enhance their playoff standing with this victory. Tri-Valley was a replacement game as Jackson’s scheduled opponent, Licking Valley, canceled the game on Wednesday due to COVID-19 issues.

“This was a great win for our kids,” JHS Head Coach Andy Hall commented. “They [Tri-Valley] were 2-0 and were ranked second in our region.” He noted it was a challenge to suddenly have to prepare on short notice to play a different team with a different style of play.

The Tri-Valley offense rolled into Jackson averaging 35 points a game while being propelled by a potent passing game. Jackson, on the other hand, had yielded only 20 points and three touchdowns in two games – and two of those touchdowns came on kickoff returns. The defense had actually only surrendered one touchdown from scrimmage -- and that came after Ironton recovered a Jackson fumble at Jackson’s 10-yard line.

As it turned out, Tri-Valley’s high-octane offense was limited to only 103 total yards (52 passing and 51 rushing) with its only score coming on a field goal in the third quarter. The Jackson defense also set up the offense with three interceptions, including a pick by senior defensive back Xander Karagosian which he returned 19 yards to the Tri-Valley 2-yard line. Holden Blankenship and Eli Broermann accounted for the other two interceptions.

Tri-Valley quarterback Drew Burkhart, who carved up Ashland and Licking Heights defenses in the Scotties’ first two games, was able to complete only 9 of 21 passes with the longest completion going for only 13 yards. Incredibly, this happened to be the longest gain of the entire game for the visitors – a testament to Jackson’s defensive positioning and tackling. Although Burkhart is also a proven runner and scrambler, he was limited to 25 yards on 16 carries and was sacked or dropped for losses several times.

“Our defense played lights out,” Hall said in tipping his visor to the unmovable object dressed in red. “All of our points came off our defense and our pass coverage did a great job.” Meanwhile, the run defense complemented the pass defense by stonewalling the running game while containing and pressuring Burkhart.

Senior inside linebacker Grant Mastin once again stood out for the JHS defense and delivered more than his share of bone-jarring tackles. Hall described Mastin as an early-season all-star “who dictates the tempo and flies around to find the football.” Defensive linemen Ty Jones and A.J. Denny and Brodie Butcher all contributed sacks or tackles for losses.

After a scoreless first quarter, the Ironmen finally broke through with a 17-point second quarter that proved to be more than enough for the victory. Sophomore placekicker Ethan Crabtree started the scoring by booting a 36-yard field goal with 7:49 to play in the first half. Karagosian’s interception set up a 2-yard touchdown run by junior fullback Jacob Winters with 4:39 remaining in the half. Following a three-and-out by Tri-Valley, JHS tacked on yet another score when senior quarterback Evan Spires connected with sophomore running back Cade Wolford on a deep pass over the middle for a 35-yard score.

The Scotties, who had already notched two comeback wins, began the second half by mounting a 7½-minute, 18-play, 59-yard drive in which they converted four third-down plays into first downs. But the drive stalled at the JHS 8-yard line and the visitors from Muskingum County had to settle for a 25-yard field goal by Coleson McCullough. Jackson’s lead was cut to 17-3 and the Scotties were still very much in the game.

No, they were not.

As it turned out, the Scotties never threatened again and never even had another first down. Meanwhile, Jackson added a clinching touchdown with 6:59 to play in the game when Spires faked a handoff and scored on a nifty 18-yard run for his team’s final touchdown. Crabtree tacked on the extra-point kick for the 10th time in as many tries in the young season.

In addition to his touchdown catch, Wolford led all rushers with 95 yards on 17 carries. Spires completed 8 of 14 for 119 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Senior wide receiver Tristan Prater had four catches for 51 yards and Wolford continued to show he is a major pass-catching threat from the slot position or the backfield with three catches for 62 yards and the one TD.

Still, it was far from a perfect performance for the Ironmen as Coach Hall was critical of the penalties and various other mistakes by the offense. Jackson committed 10 penalties for a whopping 95 yards and at times were stopped more by these errors than by the Tri-Valley defense. JHS committed five holding penalties and one of them nullified a 3-yard touchdown run by Wolford.

“We struggled on offense,” Hall stated, referring to not only the penalties, but also to two lost fumbles, some bad reads and simply not lining up right at times. “The offense just has to get better and we will work to get better.”

The Ironmen will likely need another lights-out defensive effort as well as plenty of points on offense next Friday night when they travel to Western Brown (2-1), which is averaging 58 points a game and is led by a top-notch quarterback who pilots a relentless no-huddle attack.