Bloomington Jefferson lost senior running back Rashaun Cage for the game, and possibly the season, on Friday when he injured his wrist late in the second quarter against Orono.
That didn't stop the Jaguars from enduring a second-half Spartans comeback and rallying for a 42-35 victory at Pesonen Stadium in Orono.
Senior quarterback Isaiah Watts hit Manny Montgomery with a 15-yard touchdown pass with 32.7 seconds left, capping a 10-play, 79-yard drive. The victory in the season opener came despite being outscored 28-15 in the second half.
"This game is for Rashaun," Watts said. "We're going to play this season for Rashaun."
Gage, a senior, helped Bloomington Jefferson build a 27-7 lead at halftime with rushing touchdowns of 38 and 78 yards in the first half before his injury. Coach Tim Carlson said his absence had a bit of a deflating effect on the team but that Watts was able to rally the players in the fourth quarter.
"It wasn't necessarily pretty, but he kind of took the team on his back and said, 'Hey, follow me,'" Carlson said.
Orono took a 35-34 lead after second-half touchdowns from James Buck, Sam Wagner-Lund, Nick Prentice and Fisher Eiss on four of the Spartans' first five second-half drives.
Quintin Morris also scored for the Jaguars, who had lost 49-21 to Orono in last year's opener.