Just more than 100 years after the Jefferson City Jays and the Marshall Owls met on the football field for the first time, they are set for their most important matchup in series’ history.
The Jays and Owls will square off at 7 p.m. today at Adkins Stadium with a ticket to the Class 4 District 5 championship game on the line.
“This is a special time of year,” Jefferson City coach Damon Wells said. “Anytime you start getting time with the boys that is not guaranteed, it is a little extra special to us.”
Jefferson City and Marshall first played Oct. 12, 1923, and have played seven times, with the last coming in 1937, and the Owls hold a slim 4-3 lead in the series.
Marshall (3-7), the No. 6 seed in District 5, is coming off its best performance of the season.
The Owls were able to extend their season with a 24-15 road victory against third-seeded Van Horn, their highest offensive output of the season and first district victory in 11 years.
“They are tough, they control the football is one of the things that they do best,” Wells said. “I think part of the power in what they do is it seems like they have a philosophy and they own that philosophy. They are not afraid to stand behind it.”
The philosophy Marshall will bring into the contest is the split-back veer offense.
The Jays have seen it once this season before against Capital City, and they faired well by holding the Cavaliers to 21 points in their 34-21 rivalry victory.
“I think it taught us that against teams that are going to line up the way they do, you better be physical or you don’t stand much of a chance,” Wells said. “I think that our kids based upon that Capital City game understood exactly how physical they had to be to have a chance.”
The Owls enter today averaging 237.8 yards -- 108 passing and 129.8 rushing -- and 14.2 points per game.
Marshall’s offense is led by sophomore quarterback Chase Thompson, who completed 5-of-10 passes for 74 in last week’s victory.
The Owls will lean heavily on its backfield duo of senior Jaxson Case, who caught three passes for 54 yards last week, and junior Mason Evans, who led the ground attack against Van Horn with 21 carries for 97 yards.
Case and Evans will be running behind an experienced offensive line.
“Their offensive line is impressive,” Wells said. “I think most if not all of their offensive line are back from last year. They have kids that will run hard and they have kids that will also run hard but are really good in the open field.”
Jefferson City (6-4), the No. 2 seed in the district, is coming off a 63-16 victory against the No. 7 seed Fulton Hornets.
But there were some things to improve upon from the game. The Jays allowed running back Malik Douglas to run for 157 yards on just 12 carries, accounting for almost all of the Hornets’ 200 total yards of offense.
“We didn’t tackle well, and we’ve got to do a better job of that,” Wells said. “We identified it and we went back to work. We certainly have spent an amount of time dedicated exactly toward that.”
Marshall has shown the ability to pass the ball in some games, passing 100 passing yards in four games -- including 214 passing yards in its 18-14 loss to Richmond in Week 3.
When the Owls do throw the ball, they will be looking to hit short passes to Case and Evans with the occasional shot down the field to senior wide receivers William Sickman and Steven Caviness, who was a first-team all-conference selection in the North Central Missouri Conference this season.
“They want to try and get the ball to their athletes in space,” Wells said. “They are smart about it.”
On the defensive side, Marshall has allowed 27.7 points per game this season.
The Owls will bring an aggressive mindset defensively.
“They are multiple and they will do some things that could potentially give us fits,” Wells said. “They are aggressive, so we could have our hands full trying to move the football. They haven’t given up a ton of points.”
The Jays’ offense has gotten back to producing at the level it did through the first six weeks of the season.
Jefferson City averaged 36.7 points through the first six games but then went into a slump, turning the ball over eight times in a two-week span while scoring just 20 points combined.
But the past two weeks have been much better, scoring 34 points against Moberly in the final week of the regular season and 63 last week to open the playoffs.
“There’s always room to improve,” Wells said. “We were proud of their effort, we were proud of their execution, but we were straight back to the drawing board trying to find any advantage or anything we could work on for us to continue to be able to grow.”
The Jays are hopeful to get senior running back Kantrell Jordan back tonight after he missed last week’s game with a concussion.
If Jordan does return tonight, Jefferson City will be back to full strength at the right time of year.
“Everybody wants to be full strength, so the closer we could get to that the better,” Wells said. “I think the last time we were full strength was (Week 6 against) Hickman, so it’s been a little awhile. We would look forward to having all of our kids back to give us the very best chance to survive and advance.”
Notes: The winner of tonight’s contest will advance to the district championship against the winner of tonight’s game between No. 1 seed and seventh-ranked Pleasant Hill and No. 4 seed Warrensburg. If Jefferson City were to win, it would travel to Pleasant Hill for the district championship next Friday or host Warrensburg. Marshall would be on the road against either team with a victory. … Senior safety Ryan Tadsen led the Jays in tackles last week with four, while eight different players ended with three tackles. Senior linebacker Alex Holloway leads Jefferson City in tackles on the year with 66 and senior linebacker Anthony Seneker is next with 56.