Justice rallies to beat James Wood


FALLS CHURCH — As James Wood head coach Ryan Morgan addressed his players on the Jerry Fauls Stadium artificial turf following Thursday's game at Justice Field, a Wolves fan outside the fence shouted, "Great game, No. 2!" a few times in the direction of the group.

James Wood's No. 2, junior Jackson Turner, did indeed have a special performance with 20 carries for 167 yards and two touchdowns.

It was hard for the 5-foot-9, 198-pound player nicknamed "Hammer" to feel too pumped about his performance on this night though. Not after a loss that felt about the same as getting hammered by a ton of bricks.


Quarterback Marco Cessarato's 14-yard touchdown run with 19 seconds gave Justice a 28-21 win, capping a stunning comeback that saw the Wolves rally from a 21-7 halftime deficit.

James Wood's fumbling issues went a long way toward making the Wolves' comeback happen.

The Colonels (0-2) lost three fumbles in the fourth quarter — the first was returned 50 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 21 with 7:23 left, the second came with James Wood driving for the go-ahead score at the Justice 15 with 4:14 left. The Colonels also fumbled near midfield on the kickoff return after Cesaratto's touchdown, essentially ending the game.

"I believe we really should have won this game," said Turner, whose dismayed look as he started to walk off the field after the team's postgame talk pretty much captured the moment. "We played hard as a team. The first half, we were kicking their butt."

The Colonels left humid Falls Church kicking their own butts in frustration. Playing without quarterback Carson Hoberg, running back/cornerback William Crowder, running back/linebacker Joey Vitola and two-way linemen Luke Roy, James Wood had an excellent chance to beat a Class 6 school, but they it slip through their fingers. 

"It was huge missed opportunity," Morgan said. "We handed them the game. We put the ball on the ground [six] times, [losing four]. We have to do a better job taking care of the football.

 "[Justice] did a good job. [In the second half] they sent some blitzes that our linemen had a hard time picking up. We had some guys cramping up front. We lost two linemen up front that had to be replaced, and [the reconfigured line] had trouble picking up the blitzes. But the turnovers are what killed us. We were moving the ball just fine for the most part. But you can't gain yards when you don't have the football in your hands."

Though the Justice fans screamed with delight when David Cooke scooped up a ball that fell out of Luke Esparza's hands on a sweep to the right with 7:23 to go to tie the game at 21-21, it didn't turn out to be a momentum swing.

A James Wood offense that had been held in check after piling up 149 yards on 19 carries in the first half started at its own 23 and proceeded to mount its most impressive drive since its first one of the game, when Turner capped a six-play, 67-yard drive with a three-yard blast into the end zone to make it 6-0.

On third-and-21 from its own 21, James Wood sent Sam Adkins (89 total yards, one rushing touchdown) in motion from right to left, and no one picked him up immediately as he circled forward at the snap. Quarterback Drew Reese hit the open Adkins at the 42, and no one could tackle him until he reached the Justice 47.

Turner — who had to leave last week's game against Sherando with an injury and fought through cramps on Thursday — picked up 32 yards on the next four plays. The last seven came on second-and-2 at the 22 after he shook off a tackle attempt behind the line of scrimmage at the 25 and plowed ahead to the 15.

But after a timeout with 4:20 left, Reese couldn't collect a shotgun snap, and Justice recovered at its own 16.

The Wolves (2-0) took five plays to reach the 50. James Wood's Brandon Dunn then was in a position to pick off a pass from Cesaratto on a pass to the right, but it bounced off his hands.

Justice coach Greg Weisbrecker said some confusion over the team's hand signals resulted in that near interception, adding, "we got lucky with that."

The next three plays were all about skill and determination though.

Cesarotto (11 of 21 for 124 yards, 68 rushing yards) connected with Darius Easley (five catches, 61 yards) over the middle for 16 yards.

On the next play, Cesaratto scanned the field for a long time before taking off after he noticed a large path of space open up in front of him - pointing to where his receivers should block as he moved forward - and he ran all the way down to James Wood's 14. 


Finally, Cesarrotto took a shotgun snap, found some space to the right, and broke three tackles, including one just in front of the goal line, for the winning score.

"[That last run] was all about conditioning," Cesaratto said. "Everything we do is to be able to go four quarters. I've been working hard all summer, the whole team has, and I think that really paid off."

The 84 yards that Justice gained on that drive wound up giving the Wolves a 298-261 yard edge, this after James Wood owned a 149-83 edge in the first half.

On offense in the first half, Turner pounded away up the middle and James Wood's line sealed off the edges for sweeps.

Defensively, James Wood stopped Justice inside the Colonels' 35 on each of the Wolves' first three drives, twice on downs, once on a fumble recovery. The Colonels also forced a three-and-out that gave their offense the ball at the Justice 30, leading to an Adkins nine-yard TD run to make it 21-7.   

On special teams, Tylor McBride had an 83-yard kickoff return to the Justice 10-yard line on the dangerous misdirection setup that was so dangerous last year but struggled as a result of communication issues last week against Sherando. That led to Jackson's second TD run (four yards).

But a 60-yard touchdown run by Elijah Jeffries (140 total yards, 86 rushing yards and two TDs on seven carries) 2:18 into the second half made it 21-14 and got Justice back into the game.

"We just talked about facing adversity, and what we needed to do to get momentum," Weisbrecker said. "James Wood's a really solid football team, and it was a great football game."

James Wood would have been able to appreciate the game more if it would have won, but the Colonels showed Thursday night there's reason for optimism.

"Our [offensive line] improved from last week," Morgan said. "Defense, we improved some in tackling, though we need to get better. We were a little bit simpler on defense this week, just trying to make sure we got our guys lined up right. For the most part we kept their speedy guys in front of us, and that's what we wanted to do. Our defense and offense both improved this week." 



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