JACKSON -- Less than 2 minutes into Friday night's Class 5 state quarterfinal game at Jackson, the Indians were in trouble.
"I thought we were going to be in for a long night," Jackson senior Cody Randen said. "We hadn't really seen the option, and we needed a series to get used to it and get a feel for it."
Once the Indians had that feel, it turned into a long night for McCluer North.
After yielding an early touchdown, Jackson posted a 24-7 victory against the Stars to earn a spot in the semifinal round.
The Indians (11-0) will play Friday night at Waynesville (10-1), which upended Kirkwood, the top-ranked team in The Associated Press poll, 14-7.
That leaves Jackson, which was No. 2 in the AP poll, the lone unbeaten team in Class 5.
The Indians remained perfect with what, in some ways, was a typical Jackson effort.
The defense dominated, limiting McCluer North (8-3) to 58 yards over the final three periods and 156 for the game.
Their ground game churned up yardage -- 283 yards, to be exact -- and ate up clock.
But Jackson also unleashed more of the passing game than it has recently, turning the tide with two big pass plays.
"You can't sit on your hands," Jackson coach Carl Gross said. "You've got to do something with the ball to score points.
"When they slid their safeties up and had nine men in the box, we threw the ball into the flats. That forced them to play their safeties wide and opened some things up."
Jackson put up points on three of its first four possessions after halftime, taking McCluer North's option offense out of its comfort zone.
The Indians never left their comfort zone, even after the Stars silenced the large crowd in The Pit with a 65-yard drive to open the game, capped by quarterback Ralph Watson III's 50-yard run on a keeper.
"I knew it was going to be tough for our defense to adjust to their speed," Gross said. "Nothing against our scout team, but you can't simulate that kind of speed. When we're running the option in practice, we might have a kid with 5.2 [40-yard] speed and you get out here and they have a kid running 4.4.
"I knew we were going to have to stay within ourselves. If you press the issue, the kids think you're panicking."
Jackson instead methodically drove on McCluer North, getting into Stars territory on its first two drives but having just a missed field goal to show for it.
Then, still early in the second period, the Indians put together a 66-yard drive highlighted by a 47-yard pass from Marcus Harris to Matt Lang inside McCluer North's 20. Two plays later, Adam Zweigart scampered 14 yards up the middle for the score.
Jackson opened the second half with a quick 65-yard drive of its own. After four running plays took the ball to McCluer North's 36, Harris passed to a wide-open Antonio Garritano down the middle for a touchdown.
"I saw the guy that was covering me kept coming up to play the run," Garritano said. "I just faked a block on him and kept running. It was a good call by coach Gross."
"That hot route to Antonio Garritano was the play of the night," Randen said.
Jackson had a few more plays -- a 51-yard run by Zweigart that set up Lang's 32-yard field goal that made the score 17-7 early in the fourth period and a 19-yard run by Randen that made the score 24-7 with 7:22 to play.
"Once we needed three scores to beat us, you couldn't force me to throw the ball," Gross said.
By then, Harris had done his damage, completing nine of 16 passes for 140 yards and a touchdown. Garritano caught four ball for 59 yards; Lang three for 62 yards.
On the ground, Zweigart racked up 193 yards on 24 carries, and Randen added 68 on 14 carries.
"We knew what they were going to do," McCluer North coach Jim Schottmueller said. "They just did it a lot better than we could prepare for in a week.
"On defense, they executed and were always in the right spots."
McCluer North had just one scoring chance in the second half, when Alex Beckmann fell short with a 37-yard field goal attempt late in the third period. That drive was kept alive by a fourth-and-1 conversion at the Stars' 39 and a pass interference penalty when cornerback Matt Lang turned in time to make what would have been his 12th interception of the season.
"Other than that one play when they scored," Gross said, "I felt like we defended their option pretty dad-gone good."