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story.lead_photo.caption Jefferson City quarterback Cole Gresham fights for yardage as Hickman's Max Neuhaus tries to rip the ball away during a game earlier this month in Columbia. Photo by Jason Strickland / California Democrat.

There were times last week the Jefferson City Jays didn't get a hand on St. Louis University High running back Kellen Porter until he already reached the end zone.

There were also times quarterback Cole Gresham had linebackers bearing down on him before he had time to even think about throwing the football.

Last Friday's 35-14 loss to the Junior Bills prompted practice plans to be adjusted.

"Full pads on Monday was different just because we've got to become more physical, we've got to be a more physical football team," Jays coach Terry Walker said. "We've got to embrace the collision aspect of the sport. And there's no better way to do that than to hit, so we've been hitting."

That could come in handy tonight when the Jays (2-2) host the Chaminade Red Devils (3-1) for Homecoming. Game time is 7 p.m. at Adkins Stadium.

During last year's 49-42 overtime victory for the Red Devils, Chaminade went away from its spread formations into tighter sets at times, including a 12-play, 81-yard drive that made the score 35-21 midway through the third quarter.

It caught Jefferson City off-guard.

"They got into a couple of heavy unbalanced sets that we were not ready for," Walker said. " We had no answer for it. So we know they're probably going to have something different, because they showed something a little bit different each week. We need to have the ability to defend it."

The Jays will have to watch out for two running backs tonight in Amar Johnson and Loren Fortune, who missed this matchup last season because of an injury.

Johnson gained 106 yards on 21 carries with a 9-yard touchdown run against the Jays last season.

He leads the Red Devils with 379 yards and four scores on 43 rushing attempts this season. Fortune has gained 221 yards on 42 attempts with four touchdowns.

"We know that they like to run zone-read, they like to run counter off of their one-back sets, but they also have the ability to get into heavy sets," Walker said.

The Jefferson City defense will need to keep an eye on Fortune, who leads Chaminade with 478 yards and five touchdowns on 23 receptions.

"They do some screens they do some swing passes," Walker said. "All those things take advantage or put pressure on the defense, because typically position groups that cover backs out of backfield are linebackers. And that's typically a natural mismatch."

Who's assignment will that be?

"Well, if I had my pick, I'd match up a defensive back against the back, but we don't always have that luxury," Walker said. "There's probably not a linebacker at any level that's comfortable truly covering a back or receiver out of the backfield, and we're no different.

"So we've just got to do a good job of putting pressure on (quarterback Brady Cook) and try and not give him the opportunity to get to the back out of the backfield."

Cook, who has committed to the University of Missouri, completed 14-of-20 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns while utilizing six different receivers last season against the Jays.

He's completed more than 63 percent (71-of-112) of his passes this season for 1,189 yards with 12 touchdowns and three interceptions.

Walker said Cook might be the best quarterback the Jays have faced since taking over as head coach last season.

"The kid does a great job of moving the defense with his eyes," Walker said. "He extends plays with his feet, and while he's doing that, he's got his eyes downfield.

"He's incredibly accurate. And he has a very, very quick release. It's easy to see why he's going to Mizzou because the kid is as good as advertised."

Cook's other main target is Elijah Griffin, who has 16 receptions for 318 yards and three touchdowns.

"Each player could be asked to play him in man coverage," Walker said. "Now, there's obviously some players we may try and help with an additional underneath defender, but for the most part, we've committed to playing press coverage on the perimeter and that's what we're going to stick with."

Jefferson City is preparing to have some help back on defense.

Michael Heislen is nearing a full return from an injury that's caused him to miss the past three games.

"We're hopeful that Mike's going be able to take some snaps on Friday," Walker said. "We don't know how many."

Nick Williams has been taking practice reps at safety this week instead of linebacker.

"We've always wanted to work Nick at safety," Walker said. "But with Mike Heislen's injury at outside linebacker, Nick was kind of forced to play outside linebacker.

"I don't know if he's a true outside linebacker or not. He's done a great job, he plays with great effort, he chases the football. We know we want Nick on the field, we're just trying to figure out where the best place is for him."

Inside linebacker Bryant Gipe has taken reps at an outside spot this week.

"We're just looking at a couple different things scheme-wise," Walker said. "We're always kind of trying to tweak and play to the strength of the players.

"We're just looking at a couple things. We don't know if it'll stick or not, but we're just shuffling a couple pieces to see what it looks like."

That move allowed Brayton Rollins, who played some last week, to practice at inside linebacker.

"He's done a great job of being physical," Walker said. "And if there's one thing that we really need on the football field is kids that want to be physical.

"So we're obviously going to look for a place for him to fit that's going to put him in a position to be successful."

Jefferson City's offense will be going up against a Chaminade defense that's allowed 21 points per game, including 56 two weeks go against C.B.C.

The Jays had their best offensive output against the Red Devils last season with 476 yards, including 301 on the ground.

Jefferson City is averaging better than 150 yards per game rushing with the bottom number being 95 against Kirkwood and the top mark being 283 against Hickman.

Jefferson City averaged 3 yards per carry on 37 rushing attempts last week against the Junior Bills.

"It's not like we haven't been running the ball, it's just that there's times when we need to run the ball and we haven't been able to," Walker said. "We had a couple nice drives last week, 10-, 12-, 14-play drives, and had we converted on those drives, then now we put a little bit more pressure on SLUH."

Walker said Chaminade could use a number of different defensive fronts against the Jays.

"We do a lot of zone blocking with our zone blocking scheme," Walker said. "So on paper, it matches up against all of them, but you've got to execute it. And that's where we've had some difficulties."


Related Media: Jefferson City Jays Football Podcast [Chaminade preview, Sept. 27, 2019]

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