Jefferson City scored on its first play of the game as David Bethune evaded Battle’s defense and found a clear field ahead of him.
The play put the Jays on the board early, and it seemed like an indicator that it could be a long night for the Spartans.
However,But by the end of the first half, Battle had a 26-21 lead and — unbeknownst to anyone at the time — Jefferson City had scored its final touchdown.
Battle played one of its strongest second halves of the season Friday, beating Jefferson City 39-21 on the road.
“We didn’t get to play any crosstown rivals (this season), but it’s good to play Jeff City,” Gerry Marteen Jr. said. “They’re a good team. We came out here and competed.”
Marteen had another multi-touchdown night, scoring three of the Spartans’ six touchdowns on runs of 25, 6 and 60 yards.
All told, Battle rushed for over 300 yards, and while quarterback Khaleel Dampier was spotty through the air, he also added 125 passing yards.
Dampier connected with Tommy Atherton for a short touchdown in the first half and with Manny Chiteri for a 57-yard bomb that would wind up being Battle’s last score of the game. Atherton also had a second touchdown on the ground.
But the Spartans’ offense has shone all season long. What really stood out — after the Jays’ first play, of course — was their defense.
Jefferson City rotated four runners throughout the game, and, at first, Battle (5-1, 3-1 Central Missouri Activities Conference) had trouble containing them.
“Some of the kind of sneaky things they do on offense, you can see it on tape but you can’t really feel it,” coach Atiyyah Ellison said. “Once you get used to things, you can start feeling what they’re trying to do to you. You can play it better. You kind of get a better sense of what’s going on.”
While the Jays (3-5, 3-3) still managed to earn over 200 rushing yards on the Spartans, they only found the end zone three times and didn’t make it there at all in the second half. The Spartans also recovered a fumble early in the first half. It was one of just two turnovers in the game — the other went to Jefferson City.
The stat Ellison pointed to after the game wasn’t the turnovers or the yards earned. It was conversions. Specifically, the difference in Jefferson City’s conversions in the first versus the second half.
The Jays had a combined seven third- and fourth-down conversions in the first half compared to just two in the second. Battle’s defense might have started getting a better feel for the Jefferson City offense, but it also might have benefitted from a bit of luck.
“I don’t think it was anything we necessarily did different,” Ellison said. “They just didn’t get some of the breaks they got in the first half. We were able to get some stops on defense and got our offense the ball back.”
Despite the strong second half, Battle still didn’t feel like it played a full four quarters, a phrase that has become a mantra of sorts in the past few weeks.
“I feel like we did three quarters and a half,” Marteen said. “And we’ve got another half to do. We’ll get it next game, though.”
Three-and-a-half quarters was also how Ellison described the game. An improvement, but not quite a fulfillment of potential. The Spartans had seven penalties in the game, two of which reversed first-half touchdowns.
“We almost had four quarters,” he said. “I’m not trying to be nit-picky. But if we want to win late in the season, those (drawbacks) will come back and bite us if we don’t clean them up.”
Battle plays its final regular-season game against Hannibal at 7 p.m. Friday on the road.