Stopping Jackson the key for Stevenson

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Stevenson’s football team, which advanced to the second round of the Class 8A playoffs with a 26-13 win over Warren at home Friday, has one major obstacle in its path in Round 2: Glenbard North running back Justin Jackson.

Jackson — a 6-foot-1, 175-pound junior — rushed for 163 yards and scored three touchdowns in the Panthers’ 31-24 win over Fremd in Round 1. A week earlier, he piled up 110 yards on the ground (with three TDs) in a 21-14 victory over Naperville North, helping Glenbard North (9-1) claim its first DuPage Valley title in 21 years.

Simply put, Jackson is a force with the ball in his hands, and the Patriots (8-2) know it. The Panthers will host Stevenson in Round 2 at 1 p.m. Saturday, in Carol Stream.

“He’s a very, very good running back,” said Stevenson senior slotback/defensive back Anthony Bozin, who caught 10 passes for 113 yards in the Pats’ win over Warren, while also scoring a pair of 10-yard touchdowns on running plays. “We played them last year, when he was a sophomore, and now he’s quicker. So we’ll have someone watch his moves, and prepare for his cutbacks.”

Stevenson’s Nick Constantini, a senior linebacker/tight end, said that in order for his team to contain Jackson, the Patriots need to honor the stellar back’s patience — and smarts.

“Everyone has to have the willpower — the want — and stay responsible to do their job on the field,” Constantini said. “With a guy like that, you’ve got to make sure you get him wrapped up. You can’t be an ankle-biter — you need to gang-tackle him. He’s a really patient runner. He’ll follow his blocks and wait for the hole to develop. At linebacker, you’ve got to use your hands and get off the blocks quickly.”

Patriots coach Bill McNamara agreed with Constantini regarding the need to keep an eagle eye on Jackson, but he knows that Glenbard North will bring other weapons — including senior quarterback Brian Murphy, junior backup QB Trever Cutler and junior wide receiver Matt Konopka — to the field.

“Jackson is gonna get his share of touches — maybe 30, 40 times — so we’ll need to get a lot of helmets around him … play good, disciplined team defense,” McNamara said. “He’s got really good vision, so we’ll have to fill the holes quickly because he’ll be trying to scoot through. But they’ve got other good players around him, so if you overplay Jackson, there are other guys who can make plays.”

When Stevenson has the ball, the Patriots will have to deal with the likes of senior defensive lineman Andrew Mulshine (6-foot-3, 220 pounds), who counted two sacks and a forced fumble in the Panthers’ big win over Naperville North.

“Defensively, they’re strong up front — a good line, and aggressive linebackers,” McNamara said. “They’re a very physical, fast-flowing defense. We have to take care of the football, match their physical play, and be playmakers. If we play to our abilities — if we play a complete game with a great team effort — we’ll have the opportunity to win.”

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