ANNA — The Anna-Jonesboro football team jumped out to a three-touchdown advantage in the first half and advanced to the Class 3A state quarterfinals for the first time since 2011 with a 29-14 win over Pana on Saturday at The Pit.
Pana (9-2) made a good run at it, and the game basically came down to two plays. Leading 22-14, Anna-Jonesboro stopped a Pana drive at the 1-yard line with about eight minutes left. The Wildcats proceeded to embark on a 99-yard scoring drive over 16 plays that ate up a ton of clock.
After forcing Anna-Jonesboro to punt from its own end zone, Pana started its drive from the A-J 35. Jacob Beeson did most of the damage for the Panthers, who had the ball first and goal from the 10.
But Beeson’s 6-yard run on fourth down came up just short of the goal line.
“I had confidence in our defense there, and we’ve been working since August on goal line defense and shutting them down,” said A-J quarterback Bryce Osman. “The linemen blocked up and hit guys when I made the run. They created a crease, and I hit it just right.
Osman was referring to perhaps the second biggest play of the game. After the goal line stand, A-J faced third and five from its own 6. Instead of punting from the end zone again, Osman broke through the line for an enormous 28-yard gain.
“Going to the quarterfinals hasn’t been done here in a little while, and it is special,” Osman said. “It is one of those moments you’ll remember for the rest of your life.”
Jayce Turner capped off the 99-yard drive with an 8-yard touchdown run with 1:41 left, which put the game away.
“In a game like this, you have to catch some breaks, and maybe we did where that ball didn’t quite cross the end zone,” said A-J coach Brett Detering. “But our kids really responded after that with the 99-yard drive. We took probably eight minutes off the clock doing what we do. It wasn’t pretty, but we felt like our advantage was to go right at them. It’s a tremendous credit to our guys up front, and our backs were blocking, too.”
Pana trailed 22-8 at halftime, but Beeson capped off an 84-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown run to pull the Panthers within 22-14 halfway through the third quarter. Beeson finished with 151 passing yards with two interceptions. He also rushed for 64 yards.
But this game was really won in the first half. Osman threw a 41-yard touchdown to Kyle McMahan, which made it 14-0 in favor of A-J. Turner rushed for the other two Wildcat scores in the opening half.
Turner carried the ball 34 times for 162 yards with three touchdowns. Osman rushed for 101 yards on 23 carries.
“The kids worked hard, but we just made too many mistakes to overcome a good team, especially in the first half,” said Pana coach Trevor Higgins. “We just didn’t make enough plays to get past the second round. Congrats to Anna, and good luck against Vandalia, who is a very good football team.”
Noah Smith got the Wildcats off to a great start when he picked off a pass on Pana’s first drive of the game. Conner Jerolds intercepted a pass on the Panthers final drive of the contest.
Although Turner was great as the workhorse for A-J, it was Osman who always seemed to come up with a clutch play when his team needed it the most.
“He always finds a way to make a play, and he’s just been a tremendous competitor for us,” Detering said of Osman. “We ask a lot of him, and he changes the play at the line of scrimmage. He also takes a pounding, and he’s like another running back out there for us. I’ve got a lot of admiration for Bryce, Jayce Turner and the whole offensive group.”
But it was the Anna-Jonesboro defense that also came up big once again, holding a high-powered Pana offense to a season-low in points. The Wildcats limited Ian Harbert to just 27 yards on 10 carries, which included a touchdown run.
Anna-Jonesboro travels to Vandalia for the Class 3A quarterfinals.
“To be a quarterfinalist, they typically put a banner in the gym for you,” Detering said. “So, that was definitely a goal for our kids. That way, their part of Wildcat football would always live on.”