Austin Dearing, Fox; Cael Welker, Jackson

Fox senior Austin Dearing chases Jackson quarterback Cael Welker during Friday night’s game. Welker tossed five touchdown passes against the Warriors.

“There’s no offseason. I’m out here about every day throwing the football,” said Welker after he torched Fox for five touchdown passes in the Indians’ 49-20 victory in the Class 5 District 1 championship on Friday.

It was the second straight season the Warriors ended their season to Welker in “The Pit” in Jackson.

Fox (8-3) has won 17 games the past two seasons, the most of any team in Jefferson County. But the Warriors have two losses to the Indians (11-0) by a combined score of 91-43. Welker has thrown 40 touchdown passes this year, and even when Fox dialed up the pressure, he evaded it and tossed pinpoint passes to receivers Kannen Turley and Dalton Skrobb and running back Seth Waters.

“He needs more credit than he gets,” Fox head coach Brent Tinker said of Welker, who stands about 5-9. “In the world we live in, if you’re not 6-6, nobody likes you. He’s a spectacular player. He has so many attributes as a quarterback; wonderful vision, he stays active and moves around. He does a great job of keeping his eyes downfield. He keeps the play alive. We dialed up some pressures against him and he evaded those. Most colleges will never forgive you for not being tall. But he’s a very elite kid.”

The Warriors have their own talented QB in junior Brock Inman. A year after the Warriors had three rushers surpass 1,000 yards, Inman led them going into this year’s showdown with the Indians with 865 rushing yards. Inman used his own escape act to provide the district final’s first points.

He completed a 25-yard pass to junior Juhaud Thompson and two plays later when his pocket broke down on a passing play, Inman scrambled over the left end, twisted a couple Jackson players around with a good move and sprinted 44 yards to pay dirt with 9:51 left in the first quarter. The extra point failed and Fox led 6-0.

“I felt like the game plan was correct and we could physically play with Jackson,” Tinker said. “I knew we had more work today. I was happy with the fast start.”

The Indians scored on all six possessions in the first half. Instead of kicking deep, the Warriors tried their version of onside kicks, but weren’t able to recover them. Jackson’s first series began at their own 47. On third-and-21, Welker hit junior receiver Rhet Liley for a 34-yard gain inside the Warriors’ 5. Three plays later, Waters barged in from a yard. Sophomore kicker Logan Bruns made the first of his seven PATs and the Indians led 7-6 with 6:36 left in the first.

Inman got his first taste of championship football and a look at Welker. What did he learn from those experiences?

“To bounce back from bad plays, keep moving and keep your head up,” Inman said.

Down by a point, Fox marched into Indians’ territory only to turn the ball over on downs. Jackson mounted an 11-play, 67-yard drive to go up 14-6. The key play before the TD was a 23-yard hookup between Welker and Turley on third-and-8. The Indians scored with 2 seconds left in the first on an 8-yard scoring strike from Welker to Skrob.

The Warriors went three-and-out on their first possession of the second, and it took Jackson just three plays to extend its lead. With Fox committing extra players to get to Welker, several times Indians’ receivers were wide open,  as was the case when Turley caught his second TD from 35 yards with 9:23 left before halftime.

“We didn’t sustain drives. They won on first down and we didn’t,” Tinker said. “It boiled down to that. But we grew tonight as a program. We brought pressure and played man-to-man defense behind it.”

The Warriors made it a one-possession game when they struck quickly following Turley’s second score. Inman made the Indians bite on play-action and hit a streaking Thompson running a post pattern for a 65-yard TD with 9:12 left in the second.

Turley gained 52 yards on a run on Jackson’s first play after that, but two penalties had the Indians in a fourth-and-20 hole. Eschewing a field goal, Jackson went for it. Welker took the snap out of the shotgun, pumped left and fired a dart to the other side of the end zone to Waters, who tapped his toes just inside the boundary for a touchdown to make it 28-13.

“It was a little nerve-wracking. It was fourth-and-20 and I didn’t know what the call was going to be,” Welker said. “When we called that play and I was standing (in the pocket) I could visualize it, where I was going to go with the ball and what was going to happen.”

On its ensuing drive, Fox senior running back Carson Elwood ran the ball up the middle three straight times for six yards. That conservative play calling virtually killed the Warriors’ chances against a team that’s all gas and no brakes on offense.

Welker scrambled and completed a 25-yard pass to senior Michael Schneider on third-and-8 before capping the drive with a 30-yard TD pass to Turley with 2:08 left in the half. On the play, Welker faked a handoff to Waters and hit Schneider running a flag route.

Fox was stuffed for a 2-yard loss on fourth-and-1 next and the Indians got into the end zone one more time before the break. Turley caught a 30-yard pass to the Warriors’ 2 and Welker hit freshman Marquis Eckley with a pass from there to give Jackson a 42-13 lead.

The Indians didn’t waste any time turning on the turbo clock under the mercy rule (a lead of 35 or more points in the second half) when they used nine plays to cover 57 yards. Turley gained 11 yards on fourth-and-11 and Waters ended the drive with a 2-yard scoring run with 9:41 left in the  third.

Fox turned off the running clock late in the fourth when junior Luke Pisoni scored from 3 yards out, set up by a 73-yard run by Thompson.

“We have a big offseason and we’ve got to get back to work,” Tinker said. “We’ve got to get back into the weight room and try to get back to this game.”

Jackson hosts Eureka (10-1) in the quarterfinals on Friday at 7 p.m.

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