Three weeks ago, the Fort Zumwalt West football Jaguars got off to a hard-luck 0-3 start, and appeared to be on the way to a season of treading water.
Fast forward three weeks, into the final third of the 2016 campaign, and the Jaguars are suddenly poised to claim the Gateway Athletic Conference South division championship.
Thanks to a riveting gut-check 27-20 road win over archrival Francis Howell last Friday night, Zumwalt West (3-3) is in the drivers seat in the GAC South race at 3-0 with two conference games left.
“That was a good win for us and the guys were really excited,” Fort Zumwalt West coach Neil Nowack said. “They played really well.”
The win over the Vikings broke a 25-game home winning streak Francis Howell held over GAC South opponents.
Oddly enough, the Jaguars were also the last team to beat Howell at home, registering a 34-28 win over the Vikings back in September of 2011.
“They (Howell) have kind of dominated the conference over the last few years, so it was a big win for us,” Nowack said.
Marquis Majors took a kickoff and returned it 95 yards to get Zumwalt West out to a 13-3 lead with 11:38 left in the second quarter.
“Marquis’ kick return was huge and it came at a crucial time,” Nowack said.
“We talked about getting out to fast start and we were able to do that and get a blocked punt there early to set us up with a short field and that definitely helped things out.”
Jake Verschoore and Majors hooked up on a 17-yard scoring pass just before the intermission to give the Jaguars a 20-6 edge.
In the fourth quarter, Verschoore, who also scored on a two-yard run in the first quarter, hit Josh White with a 6-yard TD pass making it 27-13 with 7:27 left.
“Jake has been really solid for us all year long,” Nowack said. “He’s a really tough competitor that makes good decisions for us and the drive there to cap it off with to Josh again was a critical drive for us and we responded after they had went down and scored.”
Howell pulled within 27-20 on quarterback McGuire Dean’s 15-yard touchdown strike to Dawson Keim in the closing moments, but the night would belong to the Jaguars.
After three straight wins, the youthful Jaguars appear to be rounding into form, with a realistic shot at their first GAC South championship in five seasons, as the final three weeks of the regular season start this weekend.
Another stiff test awaits on Saturday as Zumwalt West plays host to Francis Howell Central for homecoming.
The Spartans explosive offense is led by senior quarterback Jason Berck, senior receiver Nathan Garthe, and sophomore running back Cameron Hatten.
Howell Central has averaged better than 33 points per game in its last three games, and scored 40 points in narrowly losing to Francis Howell North 43-40 last weekend.
While the Jaguars did savor the Howell victory for a few days, they quickly turned their focus to Howell Central early this week.
“Homecoming week there is always a ton of distractions and we started talking to them (last weekend) and every day about making sure we’re focused,” Nowack said.”Howell Central offensively has some tremendous players and they are very explosive and defensively they play hard so our focus has to be tremendous this week and so far we’ve done a really good job with that.”