Coming off back-to-back losses, Jefferson City head coach Ted LePage had a pretty simple message to his team this week: It's all about where you finish.
"We've had this discussion starting in December with them," LePage said. "It doesn't matter where we're going to start. It's where we're going to finish the year at. That's something we really illustrated this week with them."
The Jays (2-2), who take on DeSmet (2-2, No. 7 in Class 6) at 7 p.m. Friday at Adkins Stadium, are trying to avoid their first three-game losing streak since 2006.
But the message this week has been one of keeping the focus on the long haul. With a young team, it was predictable there could be hiccups early on. But LePage said things haven't been that far off in a 10-point loss at Fayetteville and 11-point defeat at Hazelwood East.
"There were so many fine points where we were just an inch off, or a half-inch off, something that we can correct," LePage said. "If we do those things and they correct them, we're going to be a good football team."
The Jays were in control against Hazelwood East with a 22-12 lead late in the fourth quarter before things came unraveled. Hazelwood East scored three touchdowns in the final three minutes to win the game.
LePage said he thought it was the second game this season he had seen the inexperience of his team become a factor. After controlling the game on offense in the first half, the Jays had trouble moving the ball in the second half. A 14-play drive in the fourth quarter came away with no points after a fourth-and-short conversion at the Hazelwood East 18-yard line failed. That's when the game turned.
"We got to where we were protecting the lead a little bit," LePage said. "We were probably doing it as coaches as well. But our inexperience really showed up late in the game and their experience did. We had an opportunity to seal the game twice and weren't able to do it.
"That's something as players they came and watched film. It's just the little things. And that's something."
This week LePage said it will be imperative for the Jays to win the field-position battle and keep the ball away from DeSmet, which is averaging 39.5 points per game.
The Jays are all too familiar with the potent DeSmet offense as Marcus Jester, who has committed to Illinois State, ran for 264 yards on 36 carries in Jefferson City's 42-24 victory last season.
The Spartans racked up 480 yards of total offense in the contest.
Jester has seven rushing touchdowns this season.
"They are going to move the ball and they are going to try to win the field position battle," LePage said. "I think early on we need to win the field position battle."
The Jays used big plays to help break open last year's game, and they are hopeful to do the same this year. The Spartans have allowed at least 28 points in three games this season.
But the Jays are still looking big picture.
LePage said the team changed some things up at practice this week to include more competitive situations as well as more individual position meetings.
"Don't get too caught up in all the hoopla," LePage said. "Keep the eyes on the end of the road because we've got a long stretch ahead of us. We still have six games left. In the state of Missouri, it's the 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th games that count. We're headed toward those and getting better each week."
Notes: LePage said receiver Daniel Ellinger and running back Elijah Pittman could play Friday night. Ellinger has missed the last two games with a knee injury while Pittman has been battling a thigh bruise. Denzel Wilson filled in for Pittman against Hazelwood East. ... The Jays are 7-3 all-time against DeSmet. ... DeSmet started 0-2 with losses to Rock Bridge (41-35) and Hazelwood Central (42-38). It won its last two games against Vianney (38-28) and Chaminade (48-3). According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, DeSmet has four other Division I commits including defensive back Dedrick Cromartie (Ball State), defensive back Wilbert Vails (Miami-Ohio), offensive lineman Mitch Palmer (Miami-Ohio) and offensive lineman Andy Bauer (Mississippi). Bauer is out for the season after undergoing hip surgery in the offseason.