Justin Jackson did almost everything he could do to lead Glenbard North to Champaign for the first time since 2007.
The junior running back carried the ball 44 times for 236 yards and scored all four touchdowns in the Panthers’ 27-24 win over Loyola in the Class 8A semifinals Saturday. Jackson also started at cornerback and was spotted on special teams.
“It’s awesome,” said Jackson, who was on the same field last year when the Panthers ended their season with a 28-13 loss to Loyola in the same round of the playoffs. “It feels great to be able to help the team out.”
Jackson’s 59-yard TD run — his third rushing TD of the game — with 23 seconds left in the third quarter put the No. 6-ranked Panthers (12-1) ahead 27-10, but No. 3 Loyola (11-2) staged a spirited rally to make things interesting down the stretch. Jackson also added a 19-yard touchdown catch with 6:34 left in the first half.
Senior Peter Pujals connected with senior Luke Ford for two late TDs in a little more than two minutes, but the Ramblers ran out of time after the onside kick was recovered by the Panthers, who won their 12th consecutive game.
Glenbard North rarely strayed from its game plan of giving the ball to Jackson, either on handoffs up the middle or on toss sweeps to the outside.
“He’s a good running back,” said Loyola senior nose tackle Darby Goodwin of the 6-foot, 175-pounder, who runs with a combination of speed and power. “We could have tackled better.”
Once again, Loyola’s offense struggled to move the ball, totaling four three-and-outs during the first half. Meanwhile, the Panthers took advantage and a 14-0 lead.
The Ramblers got on the board with a 25-yard field goal by sophomore Mike Kurzydlowski in the final minute of the second quarter to cap a 10-play, 67-yard drive. Loyola then scored on its first series of the second half on Pujals’ 12-yard pass to senior Richie Wehman in the third minute of the third quarter to leave the score 14-10.
But Glenbard North answered with its own scoring drive that featured six runs by Jackson, including a 12-yarder into the end zone. After a Loyola punt, Jackson showed he’s the total package by breaking through the line before racing past defenders for a 59-yard score.
“I didn’t think we would run that much, and I didn’t know how much success I would have,” said Jackson, who hopes to do his part in getting Glenbard North its first-ever state championship in football. “All credit goes to the guys up front. We won the line of scrimmage, and that’s what really changed the outcome of the game.”