What Week 6 had in store for the Jefferson City Jays was evident before the season even started.
The Jays only lost one of their three Jamboree contests last month in Columbia. That came against the host Rock Bridge Bruins (1-4), who'll host Jefferson City (2-3) at 7 p.m. tonight.
Rock Bridge was dominant during that preseason scrimmage, winning 12-0 and not allowing the Jays to reach the red zone.
"Their defense is pretty salty," Jays coach Terry Walker said.
The Bruin defense features a pair of Missouri commits in defensive lineman Jalen Logan-Redding and linebacker Will Norris.
"Their whole defense is good," Walker said, "but if you have one standout player on your defense, and he tends to elevate the level of play of everyone around him, and if you have two, they are going to elevate all the players around them to their level."
"That's really what you want. You want kids that are challenging players around them to play better than what they're capable of playing."
Norris has accounted for 56 solo tackles.
"He makes plays all over the field," Walker said. " He's one of the better linebackers I've had the opportunity to see play, so certainly we've got to get a hat on him."
Easier said than done.
"There's definitely a way to get to him," Walker said. "The whole line's got to be acting as a single unit."
Logan-Redding enters the game with 20 solo stops and five sacks.
"We've got to control the line of scrimmage better than what we did in the Jamboree," Walker said. "In the Jamboree they controlled the line of scrimmage against us, and we didn't have a whole lot of success. Being second- and third-and-10, those are just not winning downs in football."The Bruins, who made it to the Class 6 District 2 championship game last season, ended a four-game losing streak last week with a 39-8 win at Hickman.
Rock Bridge has allowed 26 points per game, including giving up 50 to De Smet and 35 to Lee's Summit West.
Putting points on the scoreboard has been an issue for the Bruins, who only scored a combined 45 points in their first four games of the season.
Opponents have scored more than 33 points per game against the Jays this season, but Walker expects linebacker Michael Heislen to start tonight after having limited snaps last week. An injury kept him out for three games.
Heislen's return is good timing for the Jays, who'll be without linebacker Bryant Gipe because of a concussion.
"We're hoping that he can play a good solid football game for us along with everybody else," Walker said.
Brayton Rollins, Alex Burkhead and Jake Duke are expected to start at the other linebacker spots with Will Berendzen and Ethan Garnett available to rotate in.
"I would not be surprised if some of those kids did got some snaps," Walker said.
A corresponding move with Heislen coming back is Nick Williams moving to the secondary to possibly give Devin White and David Bethune a break from playing both ways.
"He'll take a few snaps here and there at safety," Walker said. "And Nick can always roll up and play outside linebacker.
"It will help immensely," Walker added. "We're always looking for guys that are just as good as the guy we have in there starting because that makes for more competitive situations in practice, it helps your depth and allows you to get some guys rest at critical times in the game where you know you're going to need them."
Jefferson City will have the task of trying to stop Bruins running back Bryce Jackson, who has gained 326 yards with two touchdowns on 77 rushing attempts this season.
Jackson broke numerous tackles on a 19-yard touchdown run against the Jays in the Jamboree.
"You can tell he's going to be a good running back," Walker said. "He just needs a little bit more time to develop, but he's still a good running back. Probably not Nate Peat's caliber yet, but he certainly has the ability to be there."
Peat, a freshman at Stanford, ran for 206 yards and three scores on 25 carries against the Jays last season.
"Actually stature-wise, it looks like he's similar in stature to the Peat kid," Walker said. "He looks like he may be a little bit more physical right now as a running back than the breakaway speed."
Jefferson City has allowed 187 yards rushing per game.
"I want to at one point in time be able to take a picture in which we've got 11 hats on the football," Walker said.
Taking the snaps for the Bruins is Grant Hajicek, who's completed 47-of-96 passes for 458 yards, four touchdowns and an interception.
"Their quarterback's a big rangy kid, does a good job of throwing the football," Walker said. "Receivers are fundamentally sound, catch the ball well. We've got to figure out a way not to give up big plays is the bottom line."
The Jefferson City Jays football program is part of this year's class for the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, it was announced Monday.
The Jays have won 10 state championship — the latest coming in 1997 — and have 700 wins.
"The program has been incredibly successful over many, many, many years," Walker said. 'I think about Coach (Pete) Adkins' 406 wins, I think about coach (Ron) Cole, coach (Tony) Grosso, coach (Ted) LePage, I think about all the incredible assistant coaches that coached here, and then I think about all the great players that played here.
" And then I think about all the average kids that were just overachievers. Kids that just played better than what they maybe thought they could have played. And coach Atkins and all the coaches did a great job of getting their max effort out of them. And that's what we're trying to get back to."