AFFTON – When the play comes in from the sideline, Affton High sophomore quarterback Will Apple is fairly certain it will not be a pass.
“It’s easy. We’ve got three of the best running backs in the area,” Apple said.
Apple did not attempt a pass as he handed the ball off and watched as Derrick Baker, Cameron Moore and Calub Moore led a rushing attack that churned up 314 yards and scored three touchdowns as Affton defeated Jennings 31-20 to win the Suburban Central-American League championship on Friday.
Affton (7-1, 3-0) won its fifth consecutive game and its first conference championship since the 2015 season when the Cougars finished 11-2.
The jitters were evident at the outset for Jennings. The Warriors opened the game with two false start penalties. On their first offensive play, Cameron Hayes forced a fumble and Affton cornerback Cameron Moore scooped it up and raced 29 yards to put the Cougars on the board after just 15 seconds.
Moore recovered another fumble on the next Jennings drive and the Cougars mounted a methodical 75-yard march on the ensuing possession. Derrick Baker pierced the interior of the Jennings defense with strong runs up the middle, then took a pitch and sprinted into the secondary for a 44-yard touchdown run and a 16-0 cushion.
“I just followed my lead blockers,” Baker said. "Calub (Moore) led me through the hole and I cut back and took off from there.”
Jennings (3-5, 2-1) changed its fortunes in the second quarter by changing its game plan. After Warriors’ senior defensive end Emmanuel Benson recovered a botched center-quarterback exchange, Jennings stopped running the ball and went almost exclusively to the air.
Quarterback Stacy Taylor found Jalyn Seals, who made a contested catch down the left sideline for a 30-yard score. It was Seals sixth touchdown catch on just his eighth pass reception of the season.
The next possession, Taylor again went to the air. He completed passes to Seals and Donta Williams, then took a quarterback draw 44 yards to close the gap to 16-14. In all, Taylor passed 23 times in the first half compared to just eight rushing attempts from the Warriors.
“That surprised us a little bit so we had to adjust our defense,” Affton coach Tony Muyco said. “Our assistant coaches did an awesome job of adjusting in-game and a credit to our kids to adjust last minute like that.”
Taylor threw for 99 yards and ran for 104 in the first half, but late in the second quarter he suffered a leg injury and did not return to the game.
“It’s a shame he got hurt, because he’s a great quarterback,” Affton defensive end Alex Edgar said.
Affton (7-1, 3-0) had no desire to have balance in its offense. The Cougars ran 30 offensive plays in the first half – all runs. They gained 224 yards on the ground led by 115 by Baker and after Moore plunged in from 1-yard out, the Cougars took a 24-14 lead into halftime.
Jennings tried to generate its offense in the second half without Taylor by using the wildcat formation as Tate, Seals and Jordan Bohlen received shotgun snaps, but one snap went awry on its first drive and Affton took advantage with a time-consuming 65-yard touchdown drive that Hayes finished with a 1-yard plunge to open up a 17-point advantage.
The running game of the Cougars has been unstoppable lately - Affton has averaged over 41 points per game during its five-game winning streak.
“In practice we challenge each other and we have competition between the three of us, trying to work to be the best,” Cameron Moore said.
Affton has limped to the finish line with a 1-9 record in the last three Octobers. This year, the Cougars appear to be getting stronger as the weather gets colder.
“It’s a new culture here, we’re taking practice a lot more seriously, we’re working harder and overall we’re more talented,” Edgar said.