WHITEHALL — The eyes of Jefferson senior running back Jaxson Yanzick lit up. Exhausted but smiling, the Panthers’ “bell cow” could barely get words out between deep breaths.
“Wait, I got three touchdowns?”
Whether it was the heat of Jefferson’s 28-0 victory over Whitehall or the presence of pure exhaustion, Yanzick had not even realized that he had earned a hat-trick in the Panthers’ biggest rivalry game of the year.
He also totaled 134 yards on a whopping 34 carries, which head coach Clint Layng acknowledged was part of the plan. However, Yanzick credits the success to a comprehensive display from his offensive line, rather than a number of opportunities.
“I just have so much faith in my o-line,” Yanzick said. “Toughest group of guys I’ve ever played with, and I know they’re going to get their blocks. They do that, and I’ll go make a play off of that.”
The Trojans were unable to muster points on the board thanks to a stout defensive performance from the Panthers, who forced three turnovers and held Whitehall freshman quarterback Miles Hoerauf and the Trojans’ passing offense to 41 yards.
Whitehall head coach Dan Lacey appreciated Hoerauf’s efforts against a big challenge, but that the Trojans’ staff and offense have to get better at making big plays.
“Our defense played well enough to keep us in the game,” Lacey said. “There were some big plays that we missed though. We’re coming up short, but I thought Hoerauf played well. He’s throwing to the right spots, but we’re just not hitting them.”
Jefferson started sophomore Braden Morris, who came in for season starter Avery Stiles after the senior QB/safety was injured last Friday. Morris kept things tidy for Jefferson, throwing for 71 yards, a touchdown, and an interception.
Panthers head coach Clint Layng said Stiles recovered far faster than expected, and did see snaps at safety, but that Jefferson trusted Morris to step in.
“Great job for his age,” Layng said. “Not a big kid by any means, but did some good things against Townsend last week and did an awesome job tonight. I’m proud of that kid.”
However, the driving force of Yanzick established Jefferson’s breakthrough. After a nine-yard score in the first quarter, the senior tacked on 31- and 16-yard scores to ice the game in the fourth quarter in favor of the Panthers.
“He’s a kid that busts his butt all year round,” Layng said. “He’s only 5’8” and 155 pounds, but pound for pound he’s one of the strongest kids on the team. He’s so tough, and he’s one of our main guys.”
Jefferson travels to Three Forks after notching their second shutout of the year, as well as getting to 3-2 on the season. Whitehall will be looking to rebound after a 2-4 start against the Columbus Cougars, who lost 13-6 to the Panthers earlier in the season.
Lacey says that hitting the offensive drawing board will be important, but so will reestablishing the concept of “1-0” with his team.
“There’s still a lot to play for,” Lacey said. “We have a ‘1-0’ mindset, and that’s all we’re thinking about now: going 1-0. Columbus is a good team, but we have to keep our playoff chances alive.”