Getting defensive

One big play, one good drive and one good kick were the difference.

Oh, one good defense didn't hurt, either.

Gabe Marcantonio ran for a touchdown, threw for a score and kicked a late game-clinching field goal as the Jefferson City Jays edged past the DeSmet Spartans 18-16 on Friday night at Adkins Stadium.

"Our kids are just amazing; they play their hearts out," Jays coach Ted LePage. "We're not making some smart plays at times, but this team never gives up and fights to the finish."

With the win, the Jays (3-2) avoided their first three-game losing streak in seven years.

"What a big, quality win for us," LePage said. "I'm really proud of this team, the way they give effort."

The effort was especially good on defense.

Marcus Jester shredded the Jays for 264 yards rushing last year; Friday night, he had 90 yards on 18 carries.

The No. 7 Spartans (2-3) came to Jefferson City averaging 40 points a game. They scored 16, but had only nine until a late touchdown.

It was moving day for defensive coordinator Ron Cole.

"We made some changes this week, and one of the biggest changes we made was having coach Cole go up in the press box," LePage said. "I thought he did one heck of a job calling defenses tonight, and I thought our defensive coaches did a great job this week of getting these guys ready."

Back to the big play --- Marcantonio busted free for a 70-yard score in the first quarter, as the Jays took a 7-3 lead at the half.

"It's a famine, famine, feast offense," LePage said, "and that's what we saw tonight."

On his other 20 carries, the senior quarterback totaled 11 yards, as Jefferson City's offense stalled until the fourth quarter.

"There for a while, we couldn't get anything going," LePage said. "But these guys just put their noses to the grindstone, said they were going to make it work, and they did."

The Spartans took a 9-7 lead late in the third quarter and with the Jays going nowhere, that almost seemed safe.

Then came the good drive --- the Jays gained four first downs and went 66 yards in nine plays, capped on a 20-yard back-shoulder strike from Marcantonio to Jake Pridgin. Marcantonio converted the two-point conversion, giving the Jays a 15-9 lead with 7:43 left.

The rest of the half, the Jays mustered only one first down and 31 total yards.

"Their three big guys inside were dominating the line of scrimmage," LePage said. "Our guys were blocking, we just weren't able to move them much.

"Late in the game, Gabe started giving the ball more instead of keeping it, we started getting to the edge, and we started getting more yardage."

Fittingly, it was the defense that set up a final score, as an interception by Zach Bond --- Austin Holland had an earlier pick for the Jays --- set up Jefferson City at the DeSmet 31.

After a first down, the Jays faced a 4th-and-8 from the 18. Decision time. LePage turned to the team's long-kicker, Marcantonio.

"Gabe's got that big leg," LePage said. "When we called timeout, I asked him if he wanted to kick it or fake it. He looked at me and said: 'Coach, I'm kicking it through.'"

"Baby, we were going to kick it. He said he'd make it and he did."

The 35-yard boot into a breeze with 2:10 left made it a two-score game at 18-9. The Spartans made it somewhat interesting on a 66-yard pass from Scott Sinovich to Jester with 1:22 left, but Rahem Moorman recovered the ensuing onside kick to end it.

"Everybody counted this group out from Day One, but the coaches and players sure haven't," LePage said. "We're fighting, we're building and we're getting better every day.

"It's just a fun group to be around."

Rest assured, winning makes it even more fun.