Goal Lines: Jefferson City hosts state-ranked Moberly for Homecoming

Jefferson City running back Jaiden LaViolette carries the ball along the Rock Bridge sideline for a touchdown during last month’s game at Adkins Stadium. (News Tribune file photo)
Jefferson City running back Jaiden LaViolette carries the ball along the Rock Bridge sideline for a touchdown during last month’s game at Adkins Stadium. (News Tribune file photo)

The Jefferson City Jays enter tonight’s regular-season finale against the Moberly Spartans sputtering of late on a two-game losing streak.

But the Jays do not feel any added pressure as they prepare for tonight’s Homecoming matchup.

Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Adkins Stadium.

“We are just looking to be our very best today, and hopefully that takes care of this week,” Jefferson City coach Damon Wells said. “They are all important to us. We face a pretty quality opponent, so it’s going to be a heck of a challenge.”

Jefferson City (4-4) has seen its offensive production take a hit the past two weeks.

Entering the Week 7 matchup against Helias, the Jays had averaged 36.7 points per game and had turned the ball over just four times all season.

But Jefferson City has combined to score just 20 points in the past two weeks while turning the ball over four times in each of the two games, leading to a 24-6 loss against Helias and a 29-14 defeat last week at Battle.

“We got to cut down on the turnovers, we have to eliminate that,” Wells said. “We did a tremendous job with that the first half of the season, so we just need to get back to our old ways. It’s not something that we are not used to, we just need to get back to our old ways.”

Getting the offense on track will not be easy. Moberly (7-1), ranked No. 9 in the Class 3 Missouri Media Rankings, has given up just 88 points (11 per game) this season.

Wells has been impressed with the discipline of the Spartans’ defense, which is coming off its second shutout of the season after last Friday’s 13-0 victory at Mexico.

“I think they are very sound, sound and aggressive,” Wells said. “They are not afraid to be multiple, but even when they are multiple, they are very sound. Eye discipline, keys and reads, it’s going to be a heck of a challenge.”

Moberly in the middle of quite a turnaround season, already surpassing its win total from last year’s 5-7 team.

“Kids, they’re incredibly talented,” Wells said of the Spartans turnaround. “They are very aggressive. They have a lot of things going for them right now.”

Jefferson City will get some help back in the running back room with Bradarious Lewis and Jaiden LaViolette both expected to be available tonight.

Lewis has missed the past two games but leads the team in yards per attempt, tallying 433 yards on just 37 rushes (11.7 avg.) with five touchdowns. LaViolette missed last week’s game with a concussion and has accumulated 369 rushing yards on 58 attempts (6.4 avg.) with three touchdowns.

“That’s been fantastic,” Wells said. “A little bit of depth, a little bit of flexibility is much needed.”

Moberly’s offense has averaged 27.5 points per game this season and has four 30-plus point performances.

The Spartans’ offense will be a familiar one for Jefferson City, using a scheme with a lot of wing-T principles.

Planning for an offense as similar as Moberly’s is to the Jays’ will be advantageous, but it’s one advantage both sides will have.

“Hopefully there is a little bit of an advantage, but I suppose the advantage would go both ways because they practice, too,” Wells said.

The Spartans are led by junior 6-foot, 190-pound quarterback Jackson Engel.

Despite running a wing-T offense, Moberly will not be afraid to spread formations out and throw the football.

“They are not afraid to spin it, they are about 64 percent run,” Wells said. “So they definitely believe in run first, but a lot of (run-pass option) action and a lot of play-action.”

But the Spartans will look to establish their running game, which is led by a trio of running backs in seniors Chris Alexander (5-6, 155) and Gage St. Clair (5-8, 180) and sophomore Ka’Von Tiger (5-9, 200).

Eye discipline will be important for the Jays’ defense in dealing with the Moberly running game.

“Wing-T principles in the running game, and we know what challenges that provides to people,” Wells said. “They are not afraid to be multiple in their running game, as well, and deception is key.”

Notes: Jefferson City has seen a lot of success in Homecoming games throughout the years, at one point winning 50 consecutive Homecoming games. The streak was snapped with a 24-21 loss to Rock Bridge in 2002. The Jays have won three consecutive Homecoming matchups, including last year’s 42-27 victory against Sedalia Smith-Cotton. … Tonight will mark the 12th matchup all-time between Moberly and Jefferson City, with the Jays holding a 6-4-1 lead in the series. The two sides first matched up in 1924 and played 10 times between then and 1957. After a 65-year scheduling layoff, the Jays won 58-14 last year at Moberly and have won five straight in the series dating to 1944. … Last week’s loss dropped the Jays from first to third in the Class 4 District 5 standings at 40.18 points. Pleasant Hill (7-1) is first with 43 points and Van Horn (7-1) is second with 42.48 after its 28-17 loss from Week 5 against Lincoln College Prep was turned into a forfeit win for Van Horn due to the appearance of an ineligible player. Warrensburg (5-3) is fourth with 37.52 points, School of the Osage (3-5) is fifth at 28.57, Marshall (2-6) sits in sixth at 20.93 and Fulton (0-8) rounds out the standings in seventh at 13.59. If the standings remain the same, Jefferson City would play Marshall in the opening round of the district playoffs next Friday. … Alex Holloway and Kane Fuelling led the Jays’ defense with seven tackles each last week. Holloway leads the team in tackles so far this season with 55, Colton Ketchum is second at 49 and Anthony Seneker is right behind with 48.