They're pretty good in the second half, too.After all, we really didn't know.
Thanks to a smothering defensive effort after the break, the Jefferson City Jays overcame a 14-7 halftime deficit to beat the Belleville East (Ill.) Lancers 22-14 on Friday night at Adkins Stadium.
Last Saturday, the heat was on --- Jefferson City was declared a 24-7 winner over McCluer North in a game that was called less than two minutes into the second half due to the oppressive heat.
The heat index was 105. Not really football weather.
Friday night, the heat was gone (well, sort of), but the game was on --- and what a game it was.
"I was a little anxious, because I didn't know how we would react in the second half," Jays coach Ted LePage said. "But I didn't see a kid out there who wasn't giving 100 percent."
You could call this a complete game, in more ways than one.
"We didn't play very well in the first half," LePage said, "but our kids responded really well and played a lot more physical in the second half.
"We played some very good football, in all phases, I think, but we have a long way to go. But the effort was there."
Last season, the Jays only scored on the opening drive in three of 11 games.
This season, they're two-for-two.
On their first possession, the Jays (2-0) went 80 yards in eight plays, capped on a sharp 31-yard strike from Gabe Marcantonio to Dan Ellinger, to take a 7-0 lead with 3:31 left in the first quarter.
The Lancers (1-1) took a seven-point lead at the break, thanks to a pair of 46-yard runs by DeMarius Ward --- one for a touchdown, the other setting up a 4-yard score by Lawrence Butler.
But the Jefferson City defense in the second half was something else.
After giving up 198 total yards in the first half, they gave up a paltry 26 total yards in the second, along with just one first down and limiting East to 17 plays.
"The defense ... I can't say enough about them," LePage said. "They're just fighting like I've never seen before; they just cranked it up another notch in the second half."
The offense tied it on their first possession of the second half, and once again it was Marcantonio to Ellinger, this one a 20-yard strike.
Marcantonio finished 12-of-26 for 126 yards, while Ellinger caught six passes for 109.
The Jays --- who finished with a 355-224 edge in total yards --- had some chances to apply the knockout blow in the third quarter. But two drives inside the East 10 fizzled, leading to field goals of 28 and 25 yards by sophomore J.T. Bohlken, to give the Jays a 20-14 lead entering the fourth.
"J.T. never seems to be rattled and he just puts them through the uprights," LePage said. "I love touchdowns --- I really don't like field goals --- but when you can put points on the board in a game like this, those are huge."
A splendid special teams' play led to the game's final score.
After a Jefferson City drive stalled at the East 32 with just over three minutes left, a Marcantonio punt was downed inside the 1.
"Anytime you can give them a 99-yard field --- especially the way our defense was playing --- the percentages are in your favor," LePage said.
Three plays later, a botched snap led to a safety. 22-14, 2:35 left. The Jays picked up one first down after the ensuing free kick.
This night not only had a good finish, but it also had an inspirational start, as Belair third-grader T.J. Clime led the Jays onto the field.
It's Clime's dream to play football. Linebacker, to be precise. And he loves the Jays.
He's battling Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy
"I get really passionate about young people," LePage said. "And by golly, what a curve ball they've been thrown in life, so it was a small thing we could do."
Clime was greeted by a surprise guest, his favorite player, and another T.J. --- former Missouri standout T.J. Moe.
"What he did for that young person ... what a class, class guy T.J. Moe is," LePage said. "When he was sitting there talking to T.J. (Clime), the parents were there, the crowd was cheering ... this is what I thought it could be.
"I was at a loss for words.
The night had a great finish. But the start was even better.