The past two weeks, the Jefferson City Jays showed they can take control of a game in the first 24 minutes. They've also shown they can somewhat lose grasp of that control in the final 24 minutes.
Two weeks ago against Hickman, the Jays led 13-0 at halftime and were outscored 7-6 in the second half. In last week's 34-13 win at St. Louis University High, Jefferson City raced out to a 27-6 lead at the break and didn't add to its score until late in the fourth quarter.
"I would classify that under the maturation of a team that's trying to develop into a good football team," Jays coach Terry Walker said as his team prepares to face the Chaminade Red Devils at 7 p.m. tonight in St. Louis. "You've got to have the maturity to understand at the end of the first half, and understand what you need to do early in the second half in order to put the game away."
The good news for the Jays is their halftime leads have been more than enough to reach three straight victories after beginning the season with a shutout loss to Kirkwood.
However, holding off Chaminade during a long stretch of time may be more of a challenge. The Red Devils, who have lost three straight since opening the season with a victory, have scored at least 21 points in three of their games.
"They are a very dangerous and a very explosive offense," Walker said. "Against Vianney they probably had four or five plays that were 50 yards-plus. They can put points on the board in a hurry. There's not a single play we can relax on defensively."The Red Devils fell 49-35 last week at Vianney to lose a third consecutive game for the first time since they dropped four straight contests in 2012. On the other side, the Jays are looking for their first four-game winning streak since 2015.
Unlike the Jays' last three opponents, Chaminade features a balanced offense. Quarterback Brady Cook has thrown it 69 times this season and leading rusher LJ Fortune has 56 carries on the season.
"They probably throw the ball a little bit more than what they run the football, which they are behind in some games so I'm sure some of that is the function of the scoreboard," Walker said. "They are very balanced. They can run the ball with their counter trey and their iso and toss and blast, and the receivers and the quarterback do a real good job in the passing game."
Cook, who has an offer from Missouri and Lindenwood, has completed 33 passes for 598 yards with three touchdowns and seven interceptions. He's also ran it 24 times for 130 yards and three scores.
The Red Devils have a pair of big-play receivers in Douglas Agnew and Keshon Campbell, who average 23 and 39 yards per reception, respectively.
"They've got a very polished quarterback," Walker said. "He moves really well, throws a really good football and has three or four receivers that run good routes and can catch the football and then they've got a couple really good explosive running backs. As far as their skill kids are concerned, they're going to be as good as anyone we've seen."
Fortune averages more than 9 yards per carry and has three rushing scores, but he's also caught eight passes for 213 yards and a touchdown. More than 200 his 522 yards came last week against Vianney, but he did have to leave late with an injury.
"We've got to make sure we do our very best to make them one-dimensional," Walker said. "If we make them one-dimensional that makes it a little bit easier on us defensively. If we let them run 6 or 8 yards a pop and then throw 10 or 12 yards a pop we're going to be in trouble. (Fortune) does a good job of running behind his pads, he does a very good job of reading blocks and he does a good job of cutting back against the flow and seems to have very good vision and balance and all those things you want a good running back to have."
Chaminade has given up its fair share of points this season, averaging 40.8 points per game allowed. The fewest points the Red Devils have surrendered is 31 in their 45-31 victory against Belleville (Ill.) East in Week 1.
"They've been giving up points and they've been giving up points via big plays," Walker said. "That tends to probably be a characteristic of a team that maybe is not as disciplined as you want them to be in different aspects of their defensive schemes, but they've played against some great teams."
In Week 2, the Red Devils faced Phillips out of Chicago, which has won state titles in two of the past three years. Chaminade also played defending Class 6 state champion C.B.C. in Week 3, so Walker isn't going to take the Red Devils' defense lightly.
"We've seen them do a bunch of different things," Walker said. "They'll run some press coverage with the secondary. They'll play some zone defense with their secondary. With their fronts, we've seen them in four-man, five-man and six-man fronts. They do a bunch of different things. Offensively for us to block the fronts is going to challenging. Our kids are going to have to do a great job of recognizing where they're at and what front they are in."
The Jays may have a new wrinkle available for their offense against Chaminade. Quarterback Devin Roberson took some reps at running back in practice this week with junior Cole Gresham at quarterback.
"Roby is one of our better runners, so were trying to figure out ways to get guys in positions to where they can make plays," Walker said. "We're asking Roby to do a lot on offense and defense playing 45 or 50 snaps defensively and then turning around and playing every snap on offense.
"There's a physical toll that it takes, but probably more is the mental toll that it takes because he's got to be locked into every play at defensive end and especially at quarterback. It's not that were trying to take some load off of him, it truly is just a function of trying to get guys in the right spot to play to our strengths offensively and put the other team under as much pressure as we possibly can."