The Springfield Yellow Jackets (9-1, 6-0) completed their first goal of the season Friday night: win their third consecutive Region 5-4A championship. They defeated the Creek Wood Red Hawks (9-1, 5-1) 38-14 in the regular season finale to clinch the top seed in their quadrant.
The game was a tale of two halves. The first was full of momentum swings. The second was a knock-out punch.
Following a Springfield three-and-out on the opening drive, Creek Wood quarterback Elijah Donaldson fumbled. Zerel Boyd recovered and took the ball into the red zone for the Yellow Jackets.
Senior quarterback Kevontez Hudson capped off a quick drive with a one-yard touchdown run to give his team a 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the game.
That score held until Donaldson capped off a long drive with a 1-yard touchdown on a quarterback sneak with 4:26 remaining in the second quarter, tying the game.
The Yellow Jackets responded as Luis Diaz Jijon drilled a 40-yard field goal to retake the lead with 1:16 left in the half.
It appeared that Springfield would get a quick stop and head into the break with a lead, but Creek Wood had different plans.
Donaldson found Raekwonn Nesbitt down the right sideline for a 65-yard touchdown pass to give the Red Hawks a 14-10 halftime lead.
Creek Wood appeared to hold all of the momentum and even got the ball to start the second half, but it all fell apart in a matter of two plays.
On the Red Hawks’ first play from scrimmage, Springfield’s Keyshawn Robinson recovered a Michael Harris fumble. On the second, Hudson found senior receiver Gabe Kelly on a 39-yard touchdown pass.
All of a sudden, Creek Wood was trailing, and it only got worse.
The Red Hawks’ next two drives resulted in a turnover on downs and an interception. Both were punished with Hudson rushing touchdowns of 23 and two yards, capping off a 21-0 third quarter for the Yellow Jackets.
Keontez Woodard added an 11-yard touchdown run to finish the scoring in the fourth quarter.
“Hats off to Springfield,” Creek Wood head coach Houston Thiel said. “They made some really big plays to win the ball game. Tonight, they were just a better football team. That’s just as simple as I can put it.”
Thiel’s team had three turnovers and a turnover on downs in the game; all four resulted in Springfield touchdowns.
“We preach ball security all the time, and it just happens,” Thiel said. “A lot of times you get guys that get a helmet right on the football and it gets loose. That’s a thing that we’ll address, but you know, we’ve been pretty good with that all year, and tonight it just kind of beat us a couple times.”
This has been a fantastic year for the Red Hawks. They obviously wanted to have their first undefeated season in school history, but their season will continue, and that’s what matters most to them.
“We talked about how tonight wasn’t going to define our season either way,” Thiel said. “Yeah, we wanted to win, but we understand that we get to come back next week and just be grateful for another opportunity to play.”
Springfield played well all night, but the second half was special. Head coach Dustin Wilson said his players just kept believing that their game plan would work and came out strong.
“Everybody gets to watch the (second half), and we did great,” Wilson said. “We played great, but it’s adversity that the kids conquered. We were two plays away from holding a shutout in the first half if you want to look at it like that, but it’s the momentum.
“When you go into halftime for 20 long minutes wondering how we’re down, and they pass the test and come out and show that they believed in what we do. It’s a real proud moment.”
Wilson has an experienced team, and he is able to have trust in his players to be disciplined and get the job done.
“It’s fun to be able to trust kids like that,” Wilson said. “You go on the old adage of a ball coach, ‘Roll the ball out there.’ We couldn’t wait to get back out there because we believe in each other.”
Kevontez Hudson once again led the offense with 140 passing yards, 91 rushing yards and four total touchdowns. Hudson, a senior, is enjoying being a region champ for the third consecutive year.
“It just feels amazing to me,” Hudson said. “I thank all my teammates for preparing us at practice everyday of the season. It just means a lot to me.”
Fellow senior Gabe Kelly caught three passes for 56 yards and a touchdown as well as an interception. Kelly has received multiple NCAA Division I FCS offers but gave all the credit to his teammates.
“It’s just awesome,” Kelly said. “I could not have done it without my teammates either. I’ve got to give all the credit to them. They’re the ones that inspire me. They make me a better person every single day.”
Wilson emphasized the impact his leaders have.
“Those aren’t two kids that have been sitting on the sidelines watching, so when they do good stuff, your team does stuff well,” Wilson said. “The leadership that they gain from other people watching them throughout the years, I mean, it’s a big deal to have senior leadership.”
The Yellow Jackets have lost one game all season, but they have bigger goals than the region championship that they now can focus on. They want to make a deep run back to the state championship this year, and Friday night was a strong start.
“I don’t think we could have played a better half to go into the playoffs, and it’s not ‘coach speak’ because it does not matter what you’ve done before,” Wilson said. “It’s going to matter next Friday night how well you perform.”
Both Springfield and Creek Wood will host teams from Jackson Friday night in the first round of the 4A playoffs. Springfield will host Jackson South Side as the top seed in the region. Creek Wood will play Jackson North Side.