McCALLA — When Mortimer Jordan’s Caleb Gandy picked up a shanked McAdory punt and ran it back 58 yards for a touchdown, the momentum change was palpable.
When quarterback Devlin Hodges scored on a 1-yard sneak early in the fourth quarter, the change was even more pronounced.
But it still wasn’t enough to overcome a 21-point lead built up in the first half by the Yellow Jackets, who went on to claim a 21-13 victory over the Blue Devils in Friday’s AHSAA Class 5A playoff game.
Fifth-ranked and unbeaten McAdory built their lead the textbook, old-school way: pound away at the defensive line by running straight at it, then finishing off with a pass after the D-line has softened.
The Jackets used that game plan to perfection on two of their three scoring drives. On the opening possession of the game, quarterback Kyran Moore handed off to running backs Thad Houser and David Knight to get the ball down to the Jordan 29.
That’s when Moore found Jonathan Witherspoon wide open just past the Devils secondary for the touchdown pass, just four minutes into the game.
After stopping a short Jordan drive, McAdory used the same method again, but needed 17 plays to get the ball from their own 6 to the goal line. The big pass came early in the drive, as Moore connected with Houser for 39 yards to get the ball close to midfield.
Moore capped the drive off with a 1-yard sneak, ending a possession that took more than eight minutes off the clock.
The Devils tried to open up the game on the ensuing drive, but Hodges was too high on a throw to Landon Smith, and cornerback Robert Cooks nabbed the interception just before the ball would have hit the ground. Three plays later it was Moore to Witherspoon again, this time for 46 yards with 4:48 left in the half.
Jordan got the ball to open the second half, but after getting all the way down to the McAdory 17 largely on Hodges’ air attack, the drive stalled out with a pair of incomplete passes. The Jackets bogged down on the return possession, and punter Kelsey Redding was called out.
Redding’s kick — his first of the night — went off the side of his foot and squibbed awkwardly to the left. Gandy went for the ball, and at first looked like he might simply fall on it. But then he saw an opening and picked it up, and ran the distance for Jordan’s first score with four minutes to go in the third quarter.
The Devils got the ball again late in the period in decent field position, and made up ground quickly on short passes by Hodges. Inside the red zone, a pass to Smith and a run by Sam Blair put Jordan in business with first-and-goal at the 1. Two plays later, Hodges sneaked in for the touchdown.
Gandy missed the extra-point kick, but the Yellow Jackets were flagged for a personal foul — one of five they committed in the game, part of 162 yards in penalties assessed against the home team — and coach Greg Watts decided to go for a two-point conversion instead.
Hodges fired a short toss to Smith, but it was out of the receiver’s reach and the conversion was no good.
McAdory was stopped on the ensuing possession, but pinned the Devils back on their own 4-yard line with the punt. Hodges tried moving Jordan downfield with the air attack, but completed only one of five pass attempts. The Devils punted the ball away with 4:12 left and hoped for the best.
The best didn’t come, as Jordan found itself on the wrong end of a dead-ball personal-foul call, which offset a holding penalty on the Jackets during the play. That gave McAdory a first down, and let them pound away on the ground to run out the clock.
The difference in Jordan’s play between the two halves was stark, as Watts noticed.
“We played well in the second half, but we dug a big hole in the first, because they kept the ball so much,” Watts said. “We never could get anything clicking. That punt return was huge, and we got all the momentum. I was real proud of our defense, which has improved a lot of the past few weeks.”
Hodges was 12-for-22 in passing for 137 yards with one interception. Logan Motte caught four passes for 50 yards, and Brandon Spears caught three for 39.
The Jordan ground game was anemic, gaining only 54 yards on 19 rush attempts.
The Yellow Jackets gained 242 yards on the ground, spread out evenly among four running backs. Moore was 3-for-6 passing for 74 yards, most on the two touchdown tosses to Witherspoon.
Despite the trip to the playoffs, Jordan finishes with a losing 5-6 record. But Watts was still pleased with the team, especially in its run to the post-season.
“This season was a step up. We haven’t quite found a way to beat the teams that are better than us, though. It’s still a work in progress to get to the next level,” he said.
McAdory, now 11-0, plays Clay-Chalkville in the second round.