JUNCTION CITY — In a last-ditch effort Friday night, Wichita East attempted to drive up the field for a game-tying score. In an attempt to get the first down and a final shot at the end zone, quarterback Daylan Jones tossed the ball near the first-down marker. That ball was tipped by a Junction City defender and fell into the arms of Blue Jay defensive back Chaz Ruffin.
It was the game-changing turnover Junction City needed to hold on for a 49-42 victory and capture a Class 6A sectional championship.
Moments after Ruffin’s interception, quarterback Andrew Khoury kneeled twice, setting off a celebration on Junction City’s sideline.
“(I’m) very proud of our kids,” Junction City head coach Randall Zimmerman said. “We really competed hard when we needed to — when the game was on the line.”
Junction City (9-1) jumped on the board early after a blocked punt gave the hosts the ball on the Wichita East 28-yard line. Six plays later, DJ Giddens scored his first touchdown of the contest and gave the Blue Jays a 6-0 lead.
After the successful point-after attempt by sophomore Aidan Field, the Jays kicked off for the second time. The Blue Aces drove 73-yards in nine plays, mostly on the heels of running back Jomarion Nelson, who was a factor throughout the entire contest.
Junction City maintained its lead after keeping East out of the end zone on a two-point conversion attempt.
Each team scored once more in the opening stanza, with East sneaking a pass in for the tying two-point conversion with 39.1 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Junction City regained the lead early in the second quarter when Giddens scored his second touchdown. Giddens finished with 136 yards and five touchdowns on 28 carries.
On the next Blue Aces’ (7-2) drive, Blue Jay senior Javon George intercepted a pass in the end zone and worked his way out to the 2-yard line before being brought down. That quick momentum shift was short lived, as Khoury’s ensuing pass was intercepted near the 30 and returned inside the Junction City 10.
“I just take all the blame,” Khoury said. “I don’t want anyone else (to) get down. I know I can play when I’m down. I won’t show it. I won’t let everyone know that I’m down. I just tell the defense, ‘Go out there, get a stop get us the ball and we’ll score for you.’ They have trust in us, we have trust in them — there’s nothing better than that.”
That trust was key, as the Junction City defense held the Blue Aces out of the end zone and gave the ball back to the offense with 8:42 left in the first half.
Zimmerman praised Khoury for his leadership on the field throughout the game.
“Andrew is such a good kid,” Zimmerman said. “Andrew is just an unbelievable leader. We just need more to follow his lead. We get kind of hung up on individual stuff a little bit. ... He’s a great kid. It’s not his fault (on the interception), it’s my fault. I did not call a good game tonight. We had a couple plays that we thought we could execute and we turned the ball over on them. It was there, we just didn’t quite get it done.”
Junction City turned the momentum around again to score and take a 28-20 lead at the break.
The Blue Jays used a little trickery to convert a two-point play after a previous point after kick was blocked. Holder Trei Goggins floated a light pass to back up quarterback David Rowell, who filled in as a tight end for the play.
“That was pretty big, because they were just bringing 10 people at us and we knew that left end was open,” Zimmerman said. “It’s very good for David, too. David Rowell is just such a great kid. He could be starting in many different positions, but he’s our backup quarterback and we only have two. So we can’t afford to get him (hurt at another spot), but he got in at tight end and did a great job going up to get that caught, and Freddie did a good job throwing it. So that was just well executed. Those kids in the front protected it well.”
The Blue Jays received the kickoff to open the second half and proceeded to march down field. Senior Russell Wilkey swept around the left side of the Blue Aces’ defense for a touchdown and a 14-point lead.
Wichita East’s special teams scored a touchdown moments later after junior Caquoy Patterson zigged and zagged on a 71-yard highlight reel kickoff return.
The Jays’ defense stepped up and stopped the subsequent two-point conversion attempt to maintain the nine-point lead.
Defensive struggles symbolized the final 12 minutes of play as Junction City couldn’t stymie short passes by Wichita East. A touchdown and successful two-point attempt from the Blue Aces tied the game at 42 with 8:29 remaining.
Six minutes later, Giddens punched into the end zone for the go-ahead score.
After the game, the Blue Jays and Blue Aces were presented with team plaques to represent their accomplishments this fall.
But Junction City isn’t done yet. Derby, the defending Class 6A state champion, is on tap next week.
“It’s just big that we won,” Zimmerman said. “We won, moved on and we have an opportunity to play another week. We know what’s on the line.”