ANNA — When the prep football season began, sportswriters and fans made predictions on which area teams would win their conferences, make the playoffs and make the deepest run.
Fans of Anna-Jonesboro and the surrounding towns had high hopes for their Wildcats few thought Anna-Jonesboro would be the last area team, advancing to the Final Four.
The Wildcats finished the season with 12-1 record for the fourth time in history joining the 2006 team, the 1983 team that finished second and the 1984 state championship team.
“We didn’t set out to think we’d win 12 ballgames, but each week we felt we could win each game and that ended up with us in the semifinals,” said coach Brett Detering.
From the first day of practice to the last day of the season the Wildcats exceeded expectations. When their season finally ended one week early the entire team of 40 players, nine coaches, two trainers, 12 cheerleaders, the Wildcat Marching Band, the entire school administration and teachers, the Huddle Club along with their fans and family exited with class and their heads held high.
The Road to the Final Four was filled with close games and dominating performances as the Wildcats swept through the season to win their fourth River-to-River Mississippi Division title and remain undefeated until the final game.
PRESEASON: Detering began his 21st season as head coach August 7 with 15 seniors, 15 juniors and 10 sophomores, but he had only six returning starters to builda championship team around.
“This team was a great group that had high expectations,” Detering said. “We had good skill kids returning, but we graduated four offensive linemen and lost 12 seniors that had played. However, we had a junior class that had good numbers since they were freshmen so we felt those guys could fill in and prosper.”
WEEK 1: The Wildcats open at West Frankfort with a 43-18 win, rushing for 321 yards. Senior fullback Jayce Turner set the tone for his season by rushing for 200 yards and scoring three touchdowns. Senior quarterback Bryce Osman completed six passes for 93 yards and scored two rushing touchdowns.
“West Frankfort had a chance to make the playoffs, but we had some big plays at key points with the defense creating turnovers and the offense able to capitalize,” Detering said.
WEEK 2: Murphysboro comes to The Pit for the home opener. The game was tied 14-14 at the half before the Wildcats scored 28 unanswered points to win 43-14. Turner rushed for 93 yards and two touchdowns. Osman gained 82 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown. Arieh Hart scored three touchdowns on a 30-yard pass, on a 1-yard run and an 88-yard kickoff return.
WEEK 3: Massac County invaded The Pit and left with a 40-7 loss. Turner gained 57 yards on eight carries. Osman had 55 yards rushing, 74 yards passing with a 51-yard touchdown to Damien Chrisp. Hart had touchdown runs of 55 and 22 yards and returned the opening kickoff 68 yards for a touchdown. Kyle McMahan scored on a 58-yard run.
WEEK 4: The Wildcats hit the road to play Nashville and won a shootout 71-41. The 71 points were the most scored by a Detering-coached Wildcat team. Turner scored seven touchdowns while rushing for 272 yards. Osman added 123 yards, including a 70-yard touchdown. Chrisp had 120 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown. Reid Morrison rushed for 39 yards and a touchdown.
WEEK 5: Homecoming saw the 4-0 Wildcats hosting 3-1 Carterville, which was coming off a 20-7 win over Du Quoin. Adding to the drama was the fact the Wildcats had never beaten the Lions since Carterville joined the conference in 2010. The game was a mismatch from the beginning with the Wildcats winning 41-7. The A-J defense held Carterville to 16 yards rushing and 70 yards passing. Offensively, the Wildcats rushed for 335 yards with Turner gaining 112 yards with four touchdowns. Morrison had 113 yards rushing, including a 79-yard touchdown. Osman had 57 yards on 11 and a touchdown.
“We discussed with our kids that there were some years we should have beat them, but didn’t for whatever reason, but we felt we could do some things this year to finally get a win,” Detering said. “They had some things go against them that week finding out that Luke Ford wasn’t going to play and we were the beneficiaries of that. It was also our Homecoming game, so we had a lot pieces that fell into place for us.”
WEEK 6: The Wildcats beat Pinckneyville on the road, 34-0 to qualify for the playoffs. Turner had 175 rushing with three touchdowns. Osman added 88 yards with a touchdown and Hart had 55 yards. Senior Sheldon McGrath kicked a 25-yard field goal.
WEEK 7: Du Quoin (5-1, 2-1 in conference) came to town and finished on the short end of a 42-36 score. The Indians tied the game at 36 with six minutes, but the Wildcats got a good kickoff return and then drove 50 yards on six plays. Turner scored on a 21-yard touchdown run with 2:06 remaining. However, the extra point failed, leaving the Wildcats with a six-point lead. With Du Quoin at the 50, senior safety Noah Smith intercepted a pass at the 35 with 1:34 remaining to seal the win. The victory guaranteed the Wildcats a share of the conference title. Turner had 114 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Osman had 99 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown. Hart had 62 yards and McMahan scored two touchdowns on a 26-yard run and a fumble recovery in the end zone.
“This was a battle,” Detering said. “They made some miscues in the punt game we were able to take advantage of and our kids responded in situations they needed to.”
WEEK 8: The Wildcats sealed the conference title with a 46-14 road win over Sparta. It was Anna-Jonesboro's first outright title since 2007. The Wildcats shared the title in 2000 and 2006. Turner had 134 yards, including a 43-yard touchdown. Hart had 48 yards on six and Chrisp 37 yards. Osman threw for 75 yards, including a 46-yard touchdown pass to Hart. Osman also scored two rushing touchdowns. McGrath scored his first touchdown on a three-yard run, kicked a 32-yard field goal and recovered a fumble.
“Our goal was winning the conference because if you win a conference championship you’re going to be in the playoffs and conference championships for us have been few and far between,” Detering said. “The year before we were very close (a missed extra point against Du Quoin) and did not get it, so after we beat Carterville and then Du Quoin we wanted to finish it off.”
WEEK 9: The Wildcats (9-0, 5-0 in conference) finished the regular undefeated for fifth time in the program’s history with a 62-28 win over Benton at The Pit. Turner rushed for 174 yards with three touchdowns. Osman had 90 yards and four touchdowns. Osman and Hart combined for a 63-yard touchdown. McGrath had two interceptions.
“When get a chance to finish undefeated you want to achieve that, but probably more important was the seeding into the playoffs,” Detering said. “We were probably going to be the lowest seeded team with eight wins, but with nine we were going to get a higher seed. Nevertheless, the kids were excited to play on Senior Night and Benton was coming in needing a win to make the playoffs.”
WEEK 10: The Wildcats opened the playoffs at The Pit with a 22-8 win over Hillsboro. The score was tied 8-8 in the fourth quarter when Osman threw a 57-yard touchdown pass to Hart. Osman also rushed for 107 yards and a touchdown. Turner gained 84 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown run.
“They were very, very good defensively and we had difficulty sustaining a lot of drives,” Detering said. “Defensively we were able to keep them in check and had a big turnover in the end zone when the score was still 8-8. We then were able to move it and score on a big pass play. We then blocked a punt with four minutes left and took over with great field position and was able to score.”
WEEK 11: The Wildcats finished undefeated (7-0) at The Pit for the first time since 2006 by beating Pana, 29-14. Turner had 169 yards and three touchdowns. Osman ran for 117 and threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to McMahan. Smith and Connor Jerolds had interceptions.
“You always want to feel you have a home field advantage and we have an atmosphere our kids respond to and we beat three playoff eligible teams,” Detering said. “That game was interesting in that they had momentum in the third quarter after cutting the lead 22-14. We then got a goal line stand with 10 minutes left and ended up driving the ball 99 yards for a touchdown. We then got an interception on our sideline to seal the win. In fact if Carlinville had beat Pleasant Plains we would had returned home for last week’s game, but it didn’t work out that way.”
WEEK 12: Anna-Jonesboro traveled to Vandalia for the quarterfinals. The Wildcats fell behind 14-0 in the first 3:12 of the game and were still behind 20-7 lead with 9:07 remaining in the second quarter. The Wildcats offense exploded for 49 points to win 56-41 and advance to the semifinals. The Wildcats rushed for 568 yards with Turner gaining 214 yards and two touchdowns. Osman added 170 yards with four touchdowns and Hart 134 yards.
“The biggest moment was when we recovered a fumble on the kickoff after we cut the lead 20-14 to get the ball back and scored to take a 21-20 lead at the half,” Detering said. “We have a tendency to score more points than we give up and did it for the third time to advance to the semifinals.”
WEEK 13: The semifinal game at Pleasant Plains proved to be both unlucky and not so pleasant on a rainy, cold and windy afternoon. The Wildcats committed four turnovers and their high-powered offense was shutout for the first time in a 41-2 loss. The only score came on a safety that cut the lead to 7-2 with 10:14 left in the second quarter.
“They had a good football team, but we didn’t help ourselves,” Detering said. “We made some mistakes in situations we didn’t before in not punching the ball in on 3rd-and-1 and then 4th-and-1, but got a safety. We felt we were going to get the ball back in good field position, but we fumble the kick and they score, so instead of it being 7-7 it was 14-2. We also had a pick-six and a botched punt.”
Turner finished with 1,904 yards rushing and 34 touchdowns. Osman rushed for 1,062 yard with 19 touchdowns and passed for 658 yards (27-of-59) with seven touchdown passes.
Hart had 537 yards and three touchdowns and 415 yards receiving with four touchdowns. Hart also returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, 88 and 68 yards.
As a team the Wildcats offense averaged 41 points and 357 total yards a game, 306 rushing and 51 passing. Defensively, the Wildcats gave up an average of 21 points and 278 total yards a game, 153 rushing and 118 passing.