For as much hype as the first varsity meeting between Capital City and Jefferson City is receiving across town, Cavaliers coach Shannon Jolley is pleased by the way his players and coaching staff have "kept their eye on the prize."
What exactly is the prize?
"The only things that means anything to me right now is for our kids to stay healthy and to get better each week," Jolley said. "I know the signature win sounds good to everybody on the outside, but inside, our kids and coaches are committed to getting better. I think we've done that and gained some respect from our opponents.
"If the byproduct on the scoreboard is a win, that would be outstanding. But improvement is the most important thing on our radar."
Capital City will be the home team tonight at Adkins Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
The Cavaliers beat the Jays at the junior varsity level last year, but Jolley has been adamant last year's success does not equally translate to the varsity level.
"Our kids have done a good job all year of not getting too mentally involved either way," Jolley said. "A lot of our kids have healthy relationships with kids on Jefferson City's team, and I think that's a great part of this game. But when it's time to play ball, I think both sides are going to be focused on winning."
Capital City (0-4, 0-3 Central Missouri Activities Conference) is looking to shore up a defense that has been carved up in recent weeks by the three Columbia public schools.
Battle and Hickman hung 52 points on the Cavaliers, while Rock Bridge tied for the ninth most touchdowns (11) in a single game in Missouri State High School Activities Association history and scored the 18th most points in a 76-49 win last week.
"We value all the film we have, no matter what," Capital City defensive coordinator Cameron McDaniel said. "I stayed up for several hours until 4 a.m. last Saturday going over the game film."
Opposing offenses have averaged 11.8 yards per carry (120 rushes for 1,414 yards) against the Cavaliers this season. Hickman racked up 535 total yards (455 rushing), and Rock Bridge finished with 509 total yards (372 rushing).
The Jays (1-3, 1-2 CMAC) relied on their ground game in a 27-6 Homecoming win last week against Sedalia Smith-Cotton, which snapped a 10-game losing streak. David Bethune rushed 12 times for 130 yards and a 78-yard score, and dynamic wide receiver Devin White is also a threat on quick handoffs (14 carries for 154 yards this season).
White is also averaging almost 20 yards per catch (nine receptions for 170 yards) and has three receiving touchdowns this season. Two of his three receptions last week went for touchdowns, the latter a 91-yard connection from quarterback Seth Brooks.
It's been a mixed bag for Brooks as the signal-caller in first-year coach Scott Bailey's offense. He's completed just more than half of his passes (31-for-59) for 440 yards, five touchdowns and five interceptions.
"Some of the deception coach (Scott) Bailey has brought with him causes problems defensively," Jolley said. "We're focused on fixing the mental errors and keeping those to a minimum. We have to make sure we have the right reads and are in the right spots."
On the other side, the Cavaliers' offense is hoping to continue a positive trend. Capital City outgained Rock Bridge last week in helping post the 14th most combined total yards (1,047) in MSHSAA history. The combined 125 points were the 16th most in state history.
Capital City is averaging 5.82 yards per carry (214 rushes for 1,245 yards) this season, with 486 on the ground last week — the 23rd most in a single game in MSHSAA history.
Ethan Wood had just 22 carries for 96 yards after the first two weeks, but has emerged as the Cavaliers' lead back the last two weeks. The junior followed a 22-carry, 143-yard game against Hickman with 22 carries for 173 yards and three touchdowns against Rock Bridge.
Fellow junior Ian Nelson has provided balance with 339 yards and two touchdowns on 58 carries this season, while Hurley Jacobs has emerged as the short-yardage specialist (52 carries for 229 yards and six touchdowns).
Another threat in the Cavaliers' multi-pronged rushing attack is quarterback Taggert Bodenstab. The junior southpaw scored off twice naked bootlegs last week, the first from 38 yards out and the second an 80-yard scamper.
"The key for us offensively is to maintain ball control," Jolley said. "We have to eliminate any turnovers and be on the plus side of that."
Capital City is minus-5 in turnover ratio and has lost 10 of 15 fumbles this season, including all four last week.