A decision in the final minutes of Jefferson City's 22-14 victory against Belleville (Ill.) East on Friday night showed what head coach Ted LePage thought about his defense.
Facing a fourth-and-short from the Belleville East 33-yard line, LePage decided to punt instead of go for a first down, putting the game in the hands of his defense. Jefferson City (2-0, No. 8 in Class 6) forced a safety to secure the victory.
Known the past few years as a team that outscores its opponents, the Jays have shown in the first two weeks of the season a different style of football, one where defense has started to set the tone.
"We put them inside the 5-yard line, there's no way they are moving the length of the field. I have that much confidence in our defense and I think our defense responded well to that," LePage said as his team prepares to play Friday at Fayetteville (Ark.).
Through two games the Jays have allowed just 21 points and have made adjustments in both games after shaky starts. McCluer North opened its game against Jefferson City with a 10-play touchdown drive before Jefferson City clamped down the rest of the game, which was shortened to slightly more than two quarters because of the heat.
After Belleville East controlled the game in the first half Friday, Jefferson City's defense allowed just one first down and 23 yards in the second half.
"Our defense is controlling the line of scrimmage, that's what we're trying to do," LePage said.
It's a change in pace from Jefferson City's high-octane offense, which averaged more than 27 points per game last season and nearly 36 in 2011.
The Jays are facing a team in Fayetteville that is undergoing some similar changes. The Bulldogs, the two-time defending Class 7 state champions in Arkansas, are breaking in five new starters on the offensive line and replacing quarterback Austin Allen, who now plays at Arkansas.
Today's game may look nothing like last year's 49-39 shootout at Adkins Stadium won by the Jays. LePage said both teams are "distinctly different than they were last season."
Last year, Jefferson City outgained Fayetteville 453-449.
"They look a lot like us," LePage said. "When I say that, there is nothing out there that just wows you on film. When I say that, I'm not saying that as a negative. ... But then you start watching film and the more and more you watch it, the more and more you really like this team from a standpoint of they don't beat themselves."
The Bulldogs are 1-0 after a 35-21 victory against Class 4 power Warren (Ark.). After averaging more than 34 points last season, LePage said the Bulldogs are more of a running team this year, a change from past seasons.
"Last year with Allen, you could run it but you knew they were going to put it on his shoulders to win it with his arm," LePage said.
Still, the Bulldogs may pose a threat through the air. Quarterback Mitch Marshall picked up right where Allen left off, as he completed 14-of-16 passes for 191 yards and three touchdowns in the season opener. The Bulldogs benefited from three turnovers and a special teams touchdown in the game.
"They may not have the big names, they may not have the big stars running around, but they've got 11 guys on the field who play together and play their technique," LePage said.
The Jays will get a boost on the defensive line this week as defensive end Jordan Robinson will play for the first time and could provide an extra boost for the defense.
"In (defensive coordinator Ron Cole's defense) you always know one thing: If linebackers are making tackles, the D-line is doing its job," LePage said. "Our linebackers have been leading our team in tackles, so that means our D-line has been holding those guys off and been doing their responsibilities, which is huge."
Notes: Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. ... The Jays will be without receiver Daniel Ellinger, who is out with a knee injury. LePage said Ellinger likely will miss a week or two. He had two touchdown catches last week against Belleville East. Rayshawn Williams will fill in for Ellinger. ... The Jays are 4-1 against the Bulldogs. Fayetteville is ranked fifth in Class 7 in the Hootens Poll, which covers high school football in Arkansas.