By VINCE PELUSO
Ashtabula Star Beacon
Anyone who has seen Jefferson play knows the big-play capability the Falcons possess.
If anyone who hasn’t doubts that, just ask the Champion Golden Flashes, who watched the Falcons score 14 points in a 20-second span in the third quarter to propel them to a 34-17 All-American Conference victory.
With Jefferson (6-2, 4-2) trailing, 17-14, Tony Chiacchiero connected with Jacob Hamilton for a 64-yard scoring strike. Then on the first play of the ensuing possession, Kyle Ashburn returned a Champion fumble 39 yards for a touchdown.
“They’re a good football team, we knew they were a good football team coming in,” Champion coach Terry Howell said. “You can’t have four turnovers and beat a good team, a well-coached team. It just isn’t going to happen.”
Just like that, the Golden Flashes went from leading by 3 to trailing by 11.
“It was a big swing,” Jefferson coach Jimmy Henson said. “Obviously, we were down going into the big touchdown pass, our kids got pumped up and the defense came out and responded and did well. We had a couple big turning points.
“I was really happy with how the kids were able to step up after we turned the ball over deep in our own territory.”
Prior to the scores, things seemed to be trending in Champion’s (3-5, 2-3) direction.
Despite trailing 14-10 at the half, the Golden Flashes marched 73 yards in just three plays which resulted in a 32-yard scoring scamper by Mike Cyrus to give Champion a 17-14 advantage.
The Golden Flashes then forced a Jefferson fumble to set them up deep in Falcon territory, but they gave it right back when Joe Babic picked of a Champion pass.
Then, the big plays hit.
Chiacchiero didn’t have his most efficient game passing on the season (8-19 for 234 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs), but made up for that with scoring strikes of 64 yards to Hamilton, 50 yards to Brett Powers and a 24-yard shovel pass to Scott Davidson, which was the opening score of the game for the Falcons.
While the offense continues to steal the show at Falcon Pride Stadium, it was Henson’s defense that did much of the heavy lifting.
Aside from runs of 40 and 32 yards on the scoring drive in the third quarter and two passes from James Naylor to Robert Douglas for 33 and 11 yards during a second-quarter drive, the latter resulting in a touchdown, Jefferson held the Champion offense down.
The Golden Flashes mustered just 4.6 yards per play and 265 total yards, just 86 through the air despite throwing 24 passes.
The Falcons also forced four turnovers.
Conversely, Howell wasn’t as pleased with his defense that surrendered 335 yards of total offense and 10 plays of more than 10 yards.
“I think if you look at it, we had a lot of missed tackles,” he said. “I don’t think it was anything other than us missing tackles. Against a good team, you better wrap up.”
The win now guarantees Jefferson a winning season and keeps its playoff aspirations alive.