Knoxville advances to state quarterfinals after 6-touchdown day by Jaxin Johnson
BISMARCK — Ryan Hebard has a simple philosophy for how to succeed in the playoffs.
“Lines travel,” the Knoxville High School football coach said. “Defense travels.”
The Blue Bullets proved their coach right Saturday afternoon at Payton Moss Field in a wild 48-29 Class 2A second-round playoff victory over second-seeded and previously unbeaten Bismarck-Henning-Rossville-Alvin.
After traveling to the edges of the Indiana border, seventh-seeded Knoxville (9-2) earned a spot in the quarterfinals behind 303 total yards (282 rushing) and six total touchdowns (five rushing, one receiving) from senior running back Jaxin Johnson and a pair of goal-line stops.
It’s the fifth quarterfinal appearance in school history (1988, 1990, 2004 and 2019) for the Blue Bullets, who scored 20 unanswered fourth-quarter points and will travel to face sixth-seeded Downs Tri-Valley next weekend.
Knoxville went ahead for good 34-29 with 11:26 to play on a 5-yard run by fullback Bo Laws (eight carries, 75 yards) that marked the seventh lead change in the contest.
BHRA appeared poised to regain the lead as it drove to the Knoxville 1-yard line. Quarterback Karson Stevenson tried to sneak it in over center, but junior defensive tackle Jacob Morris knocked the ball away and Knoxville recovered with 7:19 to play.
“That really took the game for us,” Johnson said.
After the contest, Hebard still wasn’t sure exactly how the turnover transpired. Told that Morris ripped it away from the QB, he asked Morris, standing nearby, “Did you just take that ball?”
“Yeah, I stripped that (stuff),” Morris replied.
Knoxville then went 99 yards in 4:52, capped by a Johnson TD from 5 yards out with 2:27 to go for a 40-29 Bullets lead. It marked the first two-score advantage of the day for either team.
Laws had the biggest play in the drive as he broke loose for a 58-yard run before the ball was punched away from behind by a Blue Devils defender, but Braden Downs was able to jump on the loose ball at the BHRA 5.
“Huge turning point,” Hebard said of the turnover-turned-TD series.
Johnson added his sixth score of the game with 1:26 to go to put a finishing touch on an eye-popping afternoon. The 5-foot-9 senior had 20 carries and 282 of Knoxville’s 452 yards on the ground. Johnson had touchdown runs of 20, 86, 55, 5 and 3 yards behind the Bullets’ offensive line of Hudson Strom, William Stowe, Trenton Kirgan, Joe Wall and Dalton Hutchison. He also hauled in a 21-yard touchdown pass from Beau Honeycutt in the second quarter for Knoxville’s only completion of the game.
“Sounds like I had a lot of good blocking and a lot of good teammates that helped me and surrounded me and kept me on my feet,” Johnson said.
Johnson also made a tackle for loss inside Knoxville’s 5-yard line on the first half's final play to preserve a 14-13 lead at the break for the Bullets.
BHRA standout running back Michael Hackman, who sat out the Blue Devils’ first-round win with a chest injury, returned to the lineup and had 187 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 26 carries.
Hutchison exited the game in the fourth quarter with an injury for Knoxville, and linebacker Kory Stearns, who also is the Bullets’ placekicker, went out with an injury in the third quarter and did not return.
“This game came with costs because we're beat up,” Hebard said. “I’m just real proud of the boys. They’ve done a good job for us all year. People stepped up now. Now we were going to tangle with (Downs Tri-Valley) in the quarters, and they've been there. They know what it's like.”
Area football playoff scores
2A Knoxville 48, Bismarck-Henning-Rossville-Alvin 29
4A Murphysboro 20, Macomb 16
Biggsville West Central 38, Milledgeville 14
Polo 38, Cambridge Ridgewood 32