In the nine regular season games this season, the Jefferson City Jays have had blowout defeats, convincing victories and dramatic finishes.
All of the ups and downs have resulted in a 4-5 record ahead of tonight's Class 6 District 2 first-round matchup at No. 3 seed Blue Springs (6-3), which is ranked ninth in the latest Missouri Media Rankings. Kickoff is 7 p.m.
"We should be better and we will be better, but we're working at it," Jays first-year head coach Terry Walker said. "Some things don't happen overnight."
Walker is nine games into the process of molding the Jays into what he hopes is a consistent contender for deep postseason runs.
Part of that process this season has been implementing his style of preparation each week.
"I think they have improved in understanding what it means to really prepare," Walker said. "Some of it has been some painful steps, some of the steps they've been more than happy to take, some of the other steps we've kind of had to pull them along the way.
"I think they are understanding that preparation is so much more than just what goes on out here on the practice field. It's understanding the scouting report, its understanding how to read the scouting report, it's understanding what to look for when you're reviewing opponents film, it's understanding that you need to be prepared mentally on Monday afternoon when you go out there to practice for the upcoming game on Friday night."You can't wait until Wednesday or Thursday to actually start thinking about the game because the outcome of the game's already been determined by then. I think they have a better appreciation of that and a better sense of that. That being said, we're not where we need to be."
What the sixth-seeded Jays do tonight will determine if they'll have another week of game preparation ahead of them.
After last week's 41-8 defeat at Rockhurst, Walker asked the players to do some self-reflection and figure out what they'd do in the week leading up to tonight's district contest.
"I hope that they did," Walker said. "We want to see them successful but sometimes if you haven't had a ton of success the road to establish yourself to being very successful is a tough road and you've got to make sacrifices, you've got to be committed, you've got to do things that maybe you have not done in the past. To a certain degree, if you've never been successful then you don't know what it takes, so you're kind of in uncharted territory. We just want the kids to embrace the opportunity that they have and take advantage of it."
Stopping Blue Springs senior running back Aveion Bailey is the task in front of the Jays, who allowed Rockhurst to gain an average of more than 7 yards per rushing attempt last week.
"We've seen a lot of good running backs," Walker said. "This kid is a little bit different. He's a physical running back. He may not be quite as fast as (Rock Bridge running back Nate Peat), but he still moves really well and we're going to gang tackle him and get tacklers to him and we're going to have to wrap up and we're going to have to tackle legs."
The 5-foot-11, 210-pound senior has a season average of more than 7 yards per carry, finishing the regular season with 1,346 yards and 16 touchdowns on 187 attempts.
In five games this season, Bailey has broken free for a run of at least 32 yards.
"If they get a 3-yard gain, although that may be OK for us defensively, they are not going to be rattled by that," Walker said. "They are going to line up and run it again. And over a period of time, they're hoping that 3-yard gain becomes a 5-yard gain, becomes a 7-yard gain, becomes a missed tackle and a touchdown. We are go have to earn the opportunity to play again."
Similar to Rockhurst, there's usually no mystery in what Blue Springs is going to do offensively. Senior quarterback Koby Mansfield has attempted 84 passes all season, completing 33 of them for 515 yards, four touchdowns and a pair of picks.
"Were going to get a steady diet of (Bailey) and we're going to see him right, left and down the middle," Walker said. "And then they'll throw in some play-action pass off of it just to keep you honest."
Leading the way for Bailey up front is an offensive line that ranges in height between 6-1 and 6-6 and in weight between 255 and 320.
Starting left guard Conrad Rowley (6-4, 290) has committed to play at Northwestern.
"They are big kids and they do a good job of coming off the football," Walker said. "They're probably not as big as Rockhurst on the offensive line, but again they understand what they're doing. That is their greatest strength is their system has been established."
The Wildcats enter tonight's game averaging 26.22 points per game and allow 17.66 points per contest.
"They do a lot of press coverage with their secondary," Walker said. "Their linebackers run well, they're athletic. They are fundamentally sound and don't make mistakes. They're a good quality defense. Any points we get we will have earned."
Blue Springs is trying to end Jefferson City's season for the third straight year. The Wildcats defeated the Jays 56-46 in the district semifinals two years ago and won 46-23 last year in the first round.
"If I was a player and I had an opportunity to return the favor, I certainly would be focused on that and we're hopeful that's what our kids are focused on," Walker said.