COMMERCE — Brion Youngs made sure the first-ever meeting between East Jackson and Jackson County wasn't a close one.
The Eagles senior receiver and defensive back scored an offensive and defensive touchdown in the first quarter to guide East Jackson to a 29-14 win Friday night at Eagles Stadium.
In addition to beating its new cross-county rival, East Jackson also put itself in the win column of subregion 8B-AA, improving to 2-2 overall and 1-0 in league play. Jackson County fell to 2-0 and 0-1.
"It feels good to get the win, especially because this is the first time playing them," said Youngs, who scored on a 49-yard interception return and a 56-yard reception, "because we want to set a tradition for the young guys to follow."
Youngs two scores helped the Eagles to a 13-0 lead, which East Jackson added to with another touchdown on a 7-yard run by Michael Stephens in with 4:54 left in the second quarter, bringing the score to 19-0 at the half. The Eagles failed on two separate two-point conversions after touchdowns.
The Panthers' offense was flat in the first half, producing Youngs' interception returned for a touchdown and just three first downs. But junior Jalen Banks took over at quarterback for the first time this season, replacing sophomore Kyle Daniel, and breathed new life into Jackson County, finishing the game with 129 passing yards and two touchdowns on 18-for-25 passing.
"Jalen did a great job of taking that role," Panthers coach Billy Kirk said of Banks, who played receiver in Jackson County's first three games. "We've got to get him prepared to go Friday night against Elbert County. It's one of those things where you've got two quarterbacks constantly fighting for a job."
Banks' first touchdown pass was a 10-yard completion to Tony Holton, bringing the score to 19-7 with 10:32 in the fourth quarter. However, East Jackson responded two minutes later with a 28-yard field goal by Nick Alvarado that kept the Panthers at arm's length.
The Eagles, up 22-7 with six minutes left, had a chance to put the game away on the Panthers' 8-yard line, but a fumble recovered by the Panthers gave Jackson one last shot. The fumble was East Jackson's seventh of the game and fourth lost.
"That says their very resilient with what they do," said Eagles coach Frank Caputo, referring to overcoming the turnovers. "But it also says they weren't very mentally tough tonight either, so it's a double-edged sword for us."
The Panthers failed to capitalize, driving the ball 30-yards before Banks was intercepted by Tyler Collins, who returned it 60 yards for the Eagles' second defensive score of the night, essentially putting the game away with the score at 29-7 with four minutes remaining.
At the end of the first half, Collins intercepted Daniel and returned it 65 yards for a score, but it was called back on a clipping penalty with no time on the clock.
For the Panthers, it was their fourth turnover of the game; they also fumbled twice.
Jackson did get in one last jab with 1:29 left on a 15-yard pass from Banks to River Bryant to bring the score to its final margin, but it was too little, too late.
"We got our but beat, plain and simple and that's the only thing I can say," Kirk said. "It was as bad as I've seen. We did some good things defensively, but when you throw two pick-sixes - and that one early killed us - we had a tough time recovering from that. Unfortunately, I expected us to come out and play a little better."
Caputo, despite his team's sloppy play, was satisfied to get ahead in the standings of a tough, seven-team subregion that features five playoff teams from 2009.
"Have you seen this subregion?," Caputo joked. "This win is huge, very important. I think it's going to be a knock-down, drag-out every Friday no matter who you're playing, so it's good we're in the lead with whoever else won tonight."