The Damon Wells era got off to a promising start.
Kevion Pendelton nearly took the opening kickoff for a score, getting caught with only a pair of Chaminade defenders to beat at the opposing 40. A couple of plays later, David Bethune took a fourth-and-2 at the Chaminade 5-yard line and turned it into a 5-yard score to give Jefferson City an early 7-0 lead.
The Jays were off and running.
But Chaminade answered, scoring quickly to tie things up. Then a promising offensive start faded with a couple of turnovers and special teams miscues, and that was enough for the Red Devils, one of St. Louis’ top programs, to get enough scores to pull away and defeat the Jays 34-20 Friday night at Adkins Stadium.
It gave Jefferson City an 0-1 start, but Wells thought there were some promising takeaways for his team after opening the season against a Chaminade squad that made the Class 5 quarterfinals last season and returns most of its key talent.
“The one thing I don’t need to see on film is the fight in our kids,” Wells said. “Our kids were physical. That’s a heck of an opponent, and we had a shot. We got a little sloppy in the third quarter. Aside from that, we truly had a shot.”
The Red Devils made quick work of the Jays defense on its first drive, with Chaminade quarterback Drew Faust finding Peter Fesler for a third-down score in the red zone to tie things up midway through the first.
Each team exchanged turnovers.Hayden Wells threw a pick to Nick Divis just outside the red zone before a Chaminade fumble fell straight into the arms of Will Berendzen on one of the final plays of the opening quarter to keep things knotted at 7.
The first possession of the second quarter stalled for the Jays around their own 30 before a Seth Brooks muffed punt almost became a blessing in disguise. The former quarterback looked up and found a receiver down the sideline on fourth-and-19, but he was pushed out of bounds short of the marker after an 11-yard gain.
Divis wreaked havoc on both sides of the ball for the Red Devils, with a 32-yard score four plays later on a fourth-and-8. Cam Epps, a four-star recruit committed to Oklahoma State, was kept quiet for most of the night but scored a 2-point conversion out of the wildcat formation to put Chaminade up 15-7 early in the second.
The Jays responded with a 7-yard score by Jacob Wilson to pull within one in the middle of the quarter, but a long drive by Chaminade ended with a short score by William Lufiau to push the lead back to eight and leave a little more than 30 seconds left in the half for the Jays final drive of the half.
The Jays weren’t able to score, and a 22-14 deficit at halftime is as close as the game would get from there.
Jefferson City was given some life after Pendelton pounced on a miscommunication between Faust and Epps to snag an interception early in the third, but the offense promptly went three-and-out before a blocked punt set up Chaminade with good field position and a 2-yard walk-in score by Lufiau.
A rushing attack that was steady during the first half started to run out of gas, giving the Jays little to work with offensively after the break. Lufiau scored for the third time, this one a lung-busting 72-yard run where he shoved off multiple pursuing Jays tacklers.
Pendelton had a consistent night with a key play in every phase of the game, capped off by a 35-yard rushing score where he fought through multiple Red Devils and had a pair on his back as he fell into the end zone. That score put the Jays within 14 after a failed 2-point conversion, but it was too little too late.
Wells said he would wait to watch the film before issuing many critiques of the team’s performance in what is still a long season ahead.
“I don’t think anyone after Week 1 claims to be a finished product,” Wells said. “The old adage in football is that your greatest improvement comes between Week 1 and Week 2, so we’re excited to see how good we can be.”
Next Friday, Jefferson City travels to Hannibal to play the Pirates, a team that is in the Jays district, at 7 p.m. on the road at Porter Stadium in Hannibal.
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