COMMERCE — Hebron Christian head coach Kevin Shaffer always stresses how critical winning the turnover battle is to producing victory. In their opening game against East Jackson, the Lions heeded those words.
Hebron turned two East Jackson fumbles, an interception and a blocked field goal into 28 first-half points as the Lions pounced early and cruised to a 35-15 win Friday night in Commerce.
“Statistically speaking, the odds of winning up with every turnover you get,” said Shaffer. “If you win the turnover battle you usually win the game. And that’s what it was the first half because we didn’t get the ball a lot. But a blocked field goal, an interception return, and a couple of fumbles completely changed the game. It changed the whole momentum and everything about it.”
East Jackson started strong on their opening drive. Behind the bruising inside running of Taylor Murphy, the Eagles drove to the Hebron 13-yard line. Facing third-and-2, Hebron’s Jaquan Gibson picked off a Cody Hardwick pass and raced 90 yards for a touchdown to give the Lions a 7-0 lead.
“The quarterback dropped back and was forced to throw it real quick,” said Shaffer, “and when you’re forced to throw it quickly you never know where it’s going to go. It was a little floater in the air and we were able to take it back for a touchdown. It was a huge momentum-changer because they had stopped us and were driving.”
On the ensuing East Jackson drive, Hebron’s defense forced a Hardwick fumble. William Brice recovered to give the Lions possession at the Eagles’ 42-yard line.
Facing fourth-and-17 at the Eagles’ 32, Hebron’s offense produced their first big play when Connor Holiday connected with Gibson on a 20-yard slant to keep the drive alive. Three plays later Holiday scored on a keeper to extend the lead to 14-0 remaining 1:10 in first quarter.
Following another Eagles fumble, a 56-yard run by Andrew Redman set up Holiday’s second TD on a 3-yard keeper midway through the second quarter.
Hebron’s special teams closed the first half with a flourish when Trey Selman burst through the left side to block Murphy’s 45-yard field goal attempt. Victor Gipson picked up the bouncing ball and sprinted untouched 75 yards as time expired for a commanding 28-0 Lions lead at halftime.
“That’s a 10-point swing right there,” said Shaffer. “We knew we want to go after it, and we had a couple of guys chomping at the bit to get after it. Victor Gipson is one of the fastest guys on our team, so we knew when he picked it up he was going to score.”
Hebron stretched the lead to 35-0 in the 3rd quarter on a 55-yard flea flicker from Holiday to Jacob Harper. East Jackson spoiled the shutout on a 14-yard run by Murphy late in the quarter. Murphy added another TD in the waning moments for the final margin.
“It’s great to get that first win, especially against a AAA school”, said Shaffer. “But we left some points on the field. We were sloppy in areas. There are some things to fix, but after an outcome like this it’s great that we still have so much room to improve.”
Holiday was 9-for-18 passing for 158 yards and a TD. Andrew Redman added 103 yards rushing on 12 carries.
Hebron hosts Mount Vernon next Friday in their home opener.
Hebron Christian 14 14 7 0 — 35
East Jackson 0 0 7 8 — 15
Hebron: Jaquan Gibson 90 INT return (Jacob Harper kick) 4:41
Hebron: Connor Holiday 1 run (Harper kick) 1:10
Hebron: Holiday 3 run (Harper kick) 7:22
Hebron: Victor Gipson 75 blocked kick return (Harper kick) :00
Hebron: Jacob Harper 55 pass from Holiday (Harper kick) 6:14
East Jackson: Taylor Murphy 14 run (Roman Veal kick) 2:58
East Jackson: Murphy 3 run (Murphy run) 1:08