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Jackson football has no time to dwell on big win as powerful Perry looms

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent
Jackson's Brendan Craig fights fights for extra yards during a run last week against Central Catholic.

JACKSON TWP. One week after playing arguably their most complete game of the season to date, the Jackson Polar Bears will be rewarded with a matchup against the current top dogs – or cats, as it may be – in the Federal League.

"No offense to anyone else, but I feel like right now they are the best team in our league," Jackson head coach Tim Budd said of the Perry Panthers. "They're very good physically and the execution of their schemes and I think the one thing people don't really talk about is how athletic they are."

After Perry marched into Tom Benson Stadium and delivered a resounding 35-24 defeat to the previously unbeaten Canton McKinley Bulldogs, it's hard to dispute Budd's observations.

The good news for Jackson fans is that their own team is on a two-game winning streak that includes a 35-3 win over Canton Central Catholic last Friday.

The Jackson defense limited the Crusaders to 34 rushing yards on 21 carries and 167 total yards, forcing two turnovers as well.

It was the kind of stout defensive effort the Polar Bears will need going forward, but it will also be much more difficult to pull off against a bigger, more athletic foe in Perry this week.

"We are going to have to keep getting better," Budd said. "We turned the ball over in the red zone and we have to clean that up, but we did find someone in Brenden Craig to run the ball."

Craig tallied 150 rushing yards and two touchdowns, including a touchdown run of 39 yards that was one of two scoring plays of 35 yards or more for an offense that has been looking for more explosive plays through the first month of the season.

Hints that those plays were in the offing could be seen in the days leading up to the game, according to Budd.

"This is first week in practice we had big plays against scout team ... usually they've been able to stop our offense, so when we saw, I that optimistic going into game," Budd said.

Creating more of those explosive plays and limiting Perry's own big-play capabilities will be a central theme in Week 5 for Jackson.

Budd singled out Lemon as the best player on the field against McKinley and with 287 rushing yards and three touchdowns, the senior back is clearly a focal point for the Panthers.

Perry is a run-first team that doesn't try to disguise its intent to pound the ball directly into the face of opposing defenses.

Meanwhile, their own defense is stocked with great athleticism in the linebacking corps and secondary, posing a big challenge for Jackson junior quarterback Hunter Geissinger and his offense.

Geissinger threw for 152 yards and two scores in the win over Central, but it's likely to take an even bigger night and an all-around offensive show to topple the 4-0 Panthers on their home field.

Yet even with the league's top team, Jackson's biggest rival (Hoover) and the first round of the playoffs slated for the next three weeks, the focus for Jackson is on making the most of each chance to suit up and get on the field.

"Really, I'm not worried about that (the postseason) ... we just want to continue to play games and play as many games as we can for our players," Budd said.

Those words, referencing the abbreviated and unusual season and schedule brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, have been a consistent theme in Budd's outlook throughout the season. As such, Perry is a major mountain in the Polar Bears' path, but at the core, they're appreciative to be able to walk the path at all.