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story.lead_photo.caption Helias' Zach Wolken (left) talks with teammate Will Heckman after the Crusaders defeated Rock Bridge earlier this season at Ray Hentges Stadium. Photo by Liv Paggiarino / California Democrat.

With apologies to the Southeastern Conference, this one just means more.

For the first time tonight, the Helias Crusaders and Jefferson City Jays will meet on the football field.

"We're used to looking across the field and seeing the green and white of Rock Bridge for example, that's familiar to us," Helias coach Chris Hentges said. "But looking across the field, seeing Jefferson City on the other side, I'm sure it will take a moment or two for that to sink in."

Jefferson City (3-3 overall, 3-1 Central Missouri Activities Conference) enters tonight's game at Adkins Stadium on a three-game winning streak.

"I told coach (Scott) Bailey this week from Week 1 his team has made great improvement," Hentges said. "He's a great football coach, he and his staff know what they're doing and the kids are obviously putting in the hard work."

Hentges, in his third year of a second stint leading Helias, understands the difficulties a coach faces in attempting to change things throughout a program.

"All of us know in our first year, trying to install an offense and a defense, is difficult," he said. "And when you add in it's a COVID year that limited a lot of what you could do during the summer, that can put you behind the 8-ball."

The Jays have made improvements on the offensive side each week and are averaging 27 points during their winning streak.

"What they did early is different than what they're doing now," Hentges said. "They're doing a good job being deceptive with the football."

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David Bethune leads Jefferson City with 403 rushing yards (6.3 avg.) and seven touchdowns. Devin White, who has missed the last two weeks, is expected to return to the Jays' lineup tonight. He is second on the team in rushing and tops the Jays with 170 receiving yards on nine catches.

White would provide another speed element to the Jays attack.

"That's what you worry about, that speed shock," Hentges said. "We can't simulate that speed in practice, that's what we're concerned about, that speed is going to get on the edge or bust through the hole and we won't be able to catch it.

"We're going to have to play good pursuing defense to keep that speed bottled up. We're going to have to be extremely disciplined with our eyes, reading our keys. We can't get caught looking the backfield.

"We know we're going to have to try to slow down their running game."

Jays quarterback Seth Brooks is 34-of-68 passing for 460 yards and four touchdowns.

"You can see they are getting better in the passing game each week," Hentges said.

Marshaun Dye also has nine catches for Jefferson City.

"They have weapons in the skill positions and that certainly has got our attention," Hentges said.

The Jefferson City defense has done its part in the recent winning streak. After allowing an average of 30 points in the first three games, that number has been cut to less than seven the last three weeks.

"They are playing very sound right now," Hentges said.

Hentges said a change in scheme has been the key to the improvement for the Jays. He expects to see a 4-3 front with the secondary playing man coverage against the Crusader receivers.

"They are going to put seven men in the box and dare you to throw the football against their talented guys on the back end," he said. "Their scheme is going to cause us problems."

It might be the stiffest test this season for a Helias offense that is averaging a little more than 49 points per game.

"Our offensive staff has put together a good game-plan and the kids have executed well in practice," Hentges said. "But executing against your scout team in practice is different than executing it on a Friday night."

Helias (6-0, 4-0) executed very well on offense last Friday night, scoring 48 points in the first half in what was a 51-6 victory against Capital City at Adkins Stadium.

"Our starters played really well in all three phases," Hentges said.

The Crusader reserves were on the field late in the second quarter and for the entire second half last week.

"I was happy with the way they played, the only frustrating thing was we only got four offensive snaps in the second half," Hentges said. "I was hoping to have our No. 2 and No. 3 offense run a few more plays.

"But that's the way it goes with running clock, it goes really quick."

This week's trip down Stadium Boulevard figures to be a little different, even if Helias has tried to treat this week just like any other.

Many may have circled this date on their calendar since the game was scheduled, but Hentges said the Crusaders have taken this season one game at a time.

"We have not looked ahead to this game, we have not talked about this game until this week," Hentges said. "We want the boys to be focused on the here and now. And the here and now this week is the game against Jefferson City."

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While this will be a special game, the Crusaders haven't done anything special in practice.

"We've tried to keep things as normal as we could all week," Hentges said. "We know there's going to be enough emotion (tonight), but you don't want the boys to be so excited they can't play the game."

Hentges did spend some time this week talking to the players about the proud traditions of both programs.

"I think sometimes when kids hear about 'the good old days,' they start to tune out," he said. "But I think it was important to give a little history."

Not a lot. He felt like he didn't need to.

"We didn't have to say much," Hentges said. "The boys know what this game means to the Helias community, their families, their dads, their brothers, their uncles, their cousins. Anybody who's ever played Helias football knows this is a really special game."

With the Crusaders and Jays now being members of the CMAC, this will be the first of many annual meetings between the two programs.

But there's something special about the first one.

"Two or three years down the road, it still will be a big game but this one is special," Hentges said. "The boys are excited, the coaches are excited.

"It's Jeff City football, it's Helias football. We want to have a lot of fun with what will be a cool experience for these kids."

Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Notes: Helias is the unanimous No. 1 in Class 4 in this week's Missouri Media Rankings. Hentges said while some Crusaders have some bumps and bruises, all players should be available tonight. The Crusader defense is averaging more than seven tackles for loss per game this season. Helias will return home next Friday to wrap up CMAC play against Sedalia Smith-Cotton. The Crusaders are still open in Week 9. Tonight's winner will receive the Mayor's Cup, a traveling trophy sponsored by the Kiwanis Club that goes to the school with the best record in games between Capital City, Helias and Jefferson City. The Crusaders and Jays both have wins against the Cavaliers this season.

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