JACKSON TWP. While nothing tends to come easily during the course of a football season, there are some campaigns when an extra level of difficulty seems to accompany every success.
Three games into the 2020 season, it's shaping up to be that kind of year for the Jackson Polar Bears. At 1-2 both overall and in Federal League play, they're fresh off a 22-20 comeback win over GlenOak.
It's a triumph that served as both their first win of the year and a reminder that every yard gained – both literally and metaphorically – will be a battle.
"It was gratifying seeing these guys enjoy a victory. It's been hard and they've been through a lot since March," seventh-year head coach Tim Budd said. "It was nice because we had been in a similar position needing a stop the week before to close out a game and this time, we got it."
Not being able to get a key stop late in a Week 2 loss to Lake stung, so keeping GlenOak from notching a game-winning score seven days later was a nice boost for Jackson.
They'll need to take that boost and apply it to the only nonleague game on their slate prior to the playoffs, a Week 4 neighborhood rivalry game against Central Catholic.
The Crusaders, like Jackson, enter the game at 1-2. Their record includes losses to two teams from a higher division – New Philadelphia and Perry – and given that Central is a staple of Jackson's annual schedule, the Polar Bears have a solid idea what to expect this week.
"They're better at doing what they do than we are at what we do right now," Budd said of the Crusaders. "They're more consistent and we're making mistakes across all three sides of the ball."
Mistakes have been a consistent plague through three weeks for Jackson. Budd noted that their five turnovers through three games nearly match the six his squad had all of last season.
Combined with an offense that hasn't flashed enough big-play ability thus far, the turnovers and penalties have kept Jackson to 35 points total through three games.
"There's four things I use at a measurement for success on offense: not turning ball over, explosive plays, converting at least 45 percent on third and fourth down and scoring touchdowns in the red zone," Budd said. "When you're only hitting on two of those four, it's tough."
The GlenOak game did feature a couple of big runs, but it was another game with fewer than 300 yards of total offense for Jackson. The contest also featured more success in the field goal kicking aspect of the game for Jackson, but turning those field goals into touchdowns and converting extra points after touchdowns is a focal point going forward.
"Niko Paxos has a great leg and we feel comfortable with him on field goals up to 50 yards, but we need to be more consistent in the kicking game," Budd said. "We missed two extra points and that gives teams a window to have a chance to win the game."
Whether special teams play a pivotal role against Central this Friday, they're likely to factor in the outcome of a game in the weeks ahead. The Crusaders feature sophomore quarterback Jack Talkington, a dual threat signal caller who led his team in rushing in a win last week.
A win would elevate Jackson to 2-2 heading into a tough two-game stretch against Perry and Hoover, a stretch to be followed by the start of the playoffs on Oct. 9. In other words, the road ahead isn't about to get any easier.