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story.lead_photo.caption Jefferson City running back David Bethune spins away from Rock Bridge linebacker Nate Norris during last Friday night's game in Columbia. Photo by Jason Strickland / California Democrat.

It hasn't been paradise for Jefferson City or Sedalia Smith-Cotton so far this football season.

The Tigers are 0-3, losing all by at least three scores.

Meanwhile, the Jays are 0-3 after a late turnover and Rock Bridge field goal resulted in a two-point defeat in Columbia.

After the loss, the family in the crowd joined the team on the field for the postgame meeting.

"I've been a part of football programs that made themselves exclusive," Jefferson City coach Scott Bailey said. "They're exclusive to the student body, pretty much exclusive to the community. It just didn't feel right to me. I always felt like if you could do something and do something well, and make it inclusive, it'd be more worthwhile."

Either Smith-Cotton or Jefferson City will earn a celebratory meeting for the first time this season tonight at Adkins Stadium. Kickoff for the Homecoming matchup is at 7 p.m.

"If I were Smith-Cotton, I'd be thinking this is our week to get a win," Bailey said. "Same thing we're thinking. In Week 4 we're probably going to get their best game of the year."

Smith-Cotton has non-conference losses to Moberly (32-6) and at Warrensburg (35-16). In Week 2, the Tigers dropped their inaugural Central Missouri Activities Conference game 42-0 against Rock Bridge.

Both teams have first-year signal callers: Lane Simmons for Smith-Cotton and Seth Brooks for Jefferson City.

Simmons has completed 25-of-48 passes for 319 yards with one touchdown and one interception to begin his sophomore season.

At running back, Chase McMullen has nearly surpassed his 2019 production in just the first three games of 2020 with 55 carries for 198 yards and a touchdown.

The senior gained 244 yards on 65 carries last season.

Jefferson City's defense has allowed 515 yards on the ground this season, with opponents gaining about 4.3 yards per rushing attempt.

Last week, the Jays' rush defense gradually improved by limiting Rock Bridge to 5.2 yards per carry in the second half after the Bruins were moving at a clip of 7.6 yards per rush in the first 24 minutes.

The Jays rotated more players in on the defensive front seven than in previous weeks, having senior Alex Millard, sophomore Jackson Figo and freshman Jayden Roling play more prominent roles on the line.

"We're able to get more guys on the field so our guys that are playing on both sides of the ball are getting a little bit more of a break," Bailey said. "It helps us stay fresher longer into the game."

The front benefited the pass defense as well with pressure on Rock Bridge quarterback Nathan Dent leading to a 50 percent completion percentage. The Jays allowed fewer than 100 yards passing for the first time since Week 2 last season.

"I feel like each week we play a little better," Bailey said. "The challenge is to play well enough to win and continue to improve after that so you can get on a win streak and everybody feels good about what they're doing."

Smith-Cotton sets up in a 3-4 front on defense, led by inside linebacker Everett Wood.

The junior leads the Tigers with 26 tackles, while safety Jaron Washington is second on the team with 24 tackles.

Outside linebacker Devan Scroggins, a junior, leads the team with three tackles for loss.

They will face a Jays team coming off their best rushing performance of the season with 175 yards on 32 attempts.

Jefferson City spread the carries out more than in the first two weeks, as no one ran it more than 12 times.

"I always felt like multiple guys touching the ball, making plays on offense, limited the number of hits each player took so they were physically not beat up going into the second half of the season," Bailey said.

Receiver Devin White carried it six times for 132 yards, breaking runs of 71 and 45 yards for scores.

Running back David Bethune ran it 12 times for 25 yards.

"If you can get your run game going you can get a play action pass game going to slow down that pass rush and give our quarterback a little bit more time to throw the ball," Bailey said. "One complements the other. We've just got to get that run game going at a consistently high level."

Part of that is improving the offensive line play. The Jays have had different combinations up front in each game this season.

"Kind of a rotation trying to find the best combination," Bailey said. "So then we go into the second half of the season when you are playing the most important games those guys get to take multiple games back-to-back at the same position next to the same guys."

Notes: This is the first meeting between the Jays and Tigers since 1997. The Jays have won 22 of the past 23 meetings, with a tie being the other result.

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