Russell Wilkey short on fourth down

Russell Wilkey (23) runs on fourth down for Junction City and is short in the fourth quarter of this season’s game against Manhattan High. Wilkey and the Blue Jays topped Wichita Southeast on Friday, setting up a matchup with Dodge City in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs next week.

JUNCTION CITY — Walking off the field Friday night, Junction City’s player and coaches held their heads high. For good reason. Junction City had no problems dispatching Seaman, winning 34-7 on senior night at Al Simpler Stadium.

“It’s a big night, great night,” Junction City head coach Randall Zimmerman said. “Senior night, you wanted them to go out with a win and they feel very, very good about what they did and they put together a really nice game. I know all the kids got to play, all seniors got to play and a lot of our younger kids as well. So it’s just a good overall night.”

The night might have ended joyous for the Blue Jays, but the game started out rough offensively and the defense struggled with some confusion early on.

“Well, we didn’t play our best game, that’s for sure,” Zimmerman said. “We had three drives in the first half, and we knew (Seaman was) going to come out and try to just control the clock, keep us off the field and we needed to score every offensive possession. We opened up the game and just squandered an opportunity and did not execute well — did not execute very well at all.”

Things changed for the Blue Jays, who entered Friday No. 7 in the latest CatchitKansas rankings, when they opened the second quarter deep in the Vikings’ territory.

After three Wildcat formation runs by junior Russell Wilkey moved the ball to the 5-yard line, he capped the drive with a touchdown up the middle just over a minute and a half in.

Blue Jay senior Kazerick Smith recovered a fumble on the 1-yard line as the Vikings were poised to score, which led to a seven-play drive with a pass to Marcello Bussey for the touchdown and the 13-0 lead.

“He’s really coming into his (own) and he is learning what he needs to do in his position,” Zimmerman said. “That’s a big plus, because we can use him a lot more.”

The Blue Jays (6-1, 5-1 Centennial League) entered the locker room at the break up 14-0, with the ball coming their way to begin the second half.

Prior to the game, the seniors on the team each made a solo run through the tunnel and down an alleyway of teammates as they were introduced to the fans. Just before the halftime show by the JCHS band started, seniors from cross country, golf, tennis, band, cheer and dance squad also were recognized and thanked for their efforts during their time at the school.

As soon as Junction City returned to the field, it kept finding the end zone.

After a pooch kick by the Vikings (2-5, 2-4), the Blue Jays began the second half from their 41. The great field position led to a four-play, 59-yard drive capped off with a 10-yard scramble by junior DJ Giddens.

Big plays highlighted the night for Junction City, while penalties continued to haunt it, including a holding call that reversed a touchdown and another holding call that was offset by a personal foul late, resulting in a 38-yard loss and a replay of fourth down.

“Unbelievable, and just all over the place,” Zimmerman said of the penalties. “That’s a self-discipline thing. You have to have your hands inside. And a lot of those holds, you just get your hands outside the frame. You can’t fault the kids for effort because the kids gave great effort, but we just have to be smart in those situations and just lay off.”

Seaman ended the shutout late in the fourth quarter on a 5-yard scramble.

Junction City now prepares for its final regular-season game, going on the road to face Emporia next week. The Spartans (4-3, 4-2) fell 27-0 to Topeka High on the road Friday, but Zimmerman knows they will play hard against the Blue Jays next week.

“They’re going to try to control the clock, just like Topeka Seaman did and like they did against us a year ago,” he said. “Very physical team — big defensive front, offensive front, physical running backs. So, we’re going to have to be at our very best down there, for sure, to be in the game with them.”