Jasper defense faces another test vs. Vols

Jasper’s defense was pushed to the limit in its first meeting with defending Class 5A state champion Central Clay County. The No. 1-ranked Vikings made a stand on the final play of the second overtime, stopping the Volunteers’ two-point conversion attempt in a thrilling 35-34 victory. Seven weeks and seven touchdowns later, Central Clay County makes the trip to Ki-Ro Gambrell Field for tonight’s second-round playoff game, with the season on the line. Since the first meeting against No. 4 Central Clay County (9-2), the Vikings have gone 6-0, allowing 58 points — with only 38 coming against the defense. Jasper’s defense ranks No. 2 in Class 5A, allowing just 10.1 points per game. Faith Academy is first at 9.1 points allowed per game. Senior inside linebacker Harrison Saunders expects a battle against a Central Clay County team that is used to winning playoff games. “We just have to be sound in everything we do. We have a good plan. We just have to execute better than we did last time because it’s hard to beat a good team twice,” Saunders said. “We better not make any mistakes,” said sophomore cornerback Kevon Samuel. “We can’t have any missed tackles.”

Saunders and Samuel are two key components in a defense that has registered five shutouts this season and has given up more than 20 points just once — against Central Clay County. Saunders leads the team with 139 tackles and is coming off a season-high 16-tackle performance in last week’s 55-14 first-round playoff win over Madison Academy. Samuel has been a big-play addition in the defensive backfield, returning three interceptions for touchdowns. They will face a Central Clay County offense that’s ranked third in Class 5A in scoring, putting up 37.2 points per game. Only Jasper (43.3) and Mortimer Jordan (37.5) average more points per game. “We’ve got to be focused, locked in and fearless. That’s our word today — fearless. We can’t be scared. We have to come out and play hard every snap,” Samuel said. Jasper (11-0) enters tonight’s game with a 22-2 record under head coach Bryan Moore. The team is 11-0 for only the third time in school history and for the first time since 1999. Moore has brought a shift in attitude that has been felt school-wide. “I was part of it when we went 3-7 and 4-6,” Saunders said, referring to the 2016 and 2017 seasons. “People at school would make fun of us. There was no support in the student section. Then Coach Moore came and we actually got (better). Now everybody wants to be a part of it. It’s been a big change. Everybody supports us. That’s why we have this field and have this jumbotron.” Jasper installed an artificial turf in the summer an added the jumbotron early this season.