The fourth quarter clock at Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Girard Indians, showed under three minutes with Jefferson ahead 26-20.
The 7 was more important than time remaining, though, because within the seven yards the Falcons needed on third down to get another down streak.
The Indians, a team playing in the playoffs for the 13th time in school history compared to Jefferson, who was in the playoffs for only the third time, had burned their last timeout.
If the Falcons could find a way to gain seven yards, the game would be over.
Otherwise, Girard, along with dynamic quarterback Stephen Sims, who had already thrown for 162 yards and some scoring, would have plenty of time to dial in one more and turn the Falcons’ playoffs into the offseason.
The conventional system would have said “roll it,” or at least roll the quarterback and look for an option-type play to catch the defense off guard.
Instead, Jefferson’s Grant Hitchcock took the shotgun blast and simply ran to the guts.
Seven yards later, the match was nearly over, as Hitchcock had won the yards up for grabs.
“Knowing it like the confidence to follow us through the middle is what’s amazing,” Mason Pawlowski said of the game.
Pawlowski is a two-way inside lineman and one of 13 senior Falcons preparing to meet Canton South on Saturday night at South Range High School in Division IV, Region 13 in the Regional Semifinals.
If there’s a key word in the Falcons’ playbook this season, it would be the word ‘trust’.
Over the past two weeks, Jefferson has faced plenty of moments like the one he had to seal the win at Girard. Players believing in themselves, but more importantly, trusting themselves, was the difference they still play for in Week 13.
“It’s huge,” coach Brandon Hanna said of the trust his players have in each other.
“We’re talking about family. We’ve said for the past few weeks that we need to come together. Our bond has been strong and this brotherhood has been amazing. To get to a week 13, it takes trust and love. We don’t never leave the locker room without telling each other that we love each other.Trust is part of love and we see a lot of that right now.
“There’s a lot of trust in each other, that’s for sure,” senior linebacker Wade Woodworth said. “We trust the technical staff to make a good game plan, we trust each other on the pitch.”
The win over Girard was Jefferson’s fourth in a row after being knocked out two straight weeks by Struthers and South Range. The confidence level, however, really started to take shape at the end of last season.
The Falcons finished the year 4-6 and lost six of their last seven games. For the 13 future seniors, their career record was 8-22. They promised each other that next year would be a different story.
“It all started at the end of last season,” Pawlowski explained. “We agreed right from the end of the season that we were all going to come at 6 a.m. before school every morning to practice”, “That’s exactly what we worked for, it paid off.”
“Since last December, that’s all we’ve talked about,” lineman Sam Disher explained. “We’ve come this far because it’s what we envisioned and we didn’t want to take anything less.”
Players with the ball in their hands like Hitchcock, Trent Hodge and Kaige Bozcar may be the ones grabbing the headlines, but the seniors in the trenches know and appreciate their roles.
“Our line starts it all off,” Disher said. “Our skill guys are seeing our line doing very well and we are all working together as one unit. It starts with being confident and playing well.
The Falcons have a huge challenge ahead of them this week as they take on another tough quarterback. Canton South’s Poochie Snyder has averaged nearly 300 yards per game this season to go with 32 touchdown passes.
The Falcons, however, will use the same philosophy they’ve followed all season to try to slow him down.
“We’ll have to put pressure on him, he’s super quick so we’ll have to contain him,” Woodworth said. “He can throw it deep, but our secondary can cover anyone. Our defensive backs are great athletes, so just trust everyone to do their job.
That’s how it’s been all season.