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ROCKFORD — No. 15 Jacobs had two-time state champion and No. 2 seed Boylan on its heels early in Saturday's Class 7A first-round playoff game.
The Golden Eagles drove 79 yards for a touchdown on the first possession of the game, and kicker Matt Fahey drilled a 22-yard field goal on their second possession as upset-minded Jacobs jumped to a 10-point lead.
However, Boylan's defense shut the door from that point forward, and the Titans scored 4 unanswered touchdowns — including a backbreaking 75-yard, third-quarter punt return touchdown by senior DeMarcus Vines — to rally for a 28-10 victory.
"We all believed we were going to come up here and win," Jacobs coach Bill Mitz said. "The kids gave a great effort, a lot of kids."
Jacobs' next 8 possessions resulted in 5 punts, a lost fumble and 2 interceptions snared by Boylan cornerback Matt Johnson.
"They did a good job, but I think we beat ourselves and made a lot of mistakes," said Jacobs quarterback Bret Mooney, who fumbled once in the open field and threw 2 interceptions. "Put this one on me."
Jacobs (5-5) opened the game with a head of steam. The Golden Eagles won the coin toss, took the ball and drove 79 yards in 13 plays. The drive featured a 19-yard pass from Mooney to Jake Gierlak on third down at midfield, and a fourth-down conversion run by sophomore Josh Walker that set up first-and-goal at the Boylan 4-yard line.
Fullback Greg Sidor paced the march by carrying 6 times for 21 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown run up the middle with 7:19 left in the first quarter.
The fired-up Jacobs defense coaxed a punt from Boylan (10-0) and the offense went right back to work. Jacobs traversed 64 yards in 12 plays, keyed by a 12-yard pass from Mooney to Ryan Sargent and a Mooney sneak, each good for third-down conversions. Fahey's field goal gave the Eagles a 10-0 lead with 50 seconds left in the half. However, Sidor suffered a hip flexor injury during the drive and did not return.
Boylan showed a champion's poise when faced with the early deficit.
"We came together as one, no pointing any fingers, no blaming anyone," Johnson said. "We knew we had to come back and stop them from then on."
Vines got the Titans on the scoreboard with a 39-yard burst up the middle for a touchdown with 9:28 left in the second quarter, but Jacobs blocked the extra point attempt from Sean Slattery, leaving Jacobs with a 10-6 lead.
Johnson picked off a deep Mooney pass at his own 46-yard line, and the Titans capitalized 4 plays later when 6-foot-3 junior quarterback Brock Stull connected with senior Luke Salamone behind the Jacobs secondary for a 34-yard scoring play. A 2-point conversion run by Zack Matthews lifted Boylan to a 14-10 lead with 6:42 remaining in the first half. Boylan could have done more damage, but Slattery missed a 22-yard field goal attempt at the end of the first half after the Titans had moved 61 yards in 11 plays.
Senior Connor Conzelman reignited the Jacobs sideline with a third-quarter interception of Stull at the Jacobs' 26, but the offense went three-and-out.
The teams traded punts, however, Jacobs punted into the hands of the always dangerous Vines. After initially bobbling the 39-yard punt, he picked the ball up on a bounce, cut to the right and raced 75 yards up the sideline for his first punt return touchdown since he pulled the same trick against Richards in a 2010 playoff game.
"They're the first team to actually kick me the ball in about a year and a half," Vines said. "I was happy that they took the chance and it worked out in our favor."
"I almost called the fake punt there, too," Mitz said, "so I was a little upset with myself after that happened."
Trailing 21-10 early in the fourth quarter, Jacobs moved 50 yards in 9 plays, keyed by Gierlak's leaping 26-yard reception. That critical drive was snuffed out when Mooney rolled to his right and underthrew a deep receiver. Johnson, who also recovered a second-half fumble, made his second interception of the day. After seeing limited action last year, he has 13 interceptions this season.
"We practiced their route combos all week and we knew our defensive backs could stop them," Johnson said, "so we did what we've done all year and played our defense."
Boylan finished off the Golden Eagles by driving 90 yards, fueled by Stull's 43-yard run. Matthews capped the scoring with a 2-yard plunge with 2:15 to play.
Though Jacobs could not maintain its early lead, Mitz appreciated the manner in which his players fought from start to finish.
"Great effort by our kids, especially the defense," Mitz said of a unit that forced 4 punts and a turnover and held Boylan to 290 total yards. "We've come so far defensively. We just have to keep improving with those guys that are coming back, which are a lot of them.
"It's tough for the seniors. It's a hard thing to lose. But they played with a lot of pride. Hopefully, we'll build on it in the future."