Goal Lines: Capital City looks for breakthrough victory vs. Battle

Capital City quarterback Evan Schaffer listens to instructions from assistant coach Kody Walker during a game earlier this season at Capital City High School. (Garrett Bradley/News Tribune)
Capital City quarterback Evan Schaffer listens to instructions from assistant coach Kody Walker during a game earlier this season at Capital City High School. (Garrett Bradley/News Tribune)

The 2022 season was filled with many firsts for Capital City. But a couple still eluded the Cavaliers.

Tonight, the No. 3 seed Cavaliers (6-3) have a chance to right the missing piece from their first successful season as they look for Capital City’s first district win as it hosts No. 6 seed Battle Spartans (3-6) in the first round of the Class 5 District 5 tournament.

It’s a rematch not just of Capital City’s Week 2 win, but of last year’s first-round district matchup when Battle beat the Cavaliers 34-14 to end the first winning season in the Cavaliers’ short history. And the Cavaliers have revenge on their mind.

“We’re a pretty competitive community,” Capital City coach Joe Collier said. “On this field and in this stadium, the blue brigade, we’re pretty competitive.”

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

The Cavaliers and Spartans played in the Cavaliers’ home opener in Week 2, the first game at Capital City’s home stadium, and now they will match up in the first true home Cavalier playoff game.

In Week 2, the Cavaliers survived a litany of errors for a 37-34 comeback win, with Capital City scoring the final 14 points in the last 10 minutes of action to win after losing six fumbles, including two Battle returned for touchdowns.

“If we execute well, we’ll be OK,” Collier said. “… I think if we play another game like we did Game 2 of this season, it’s gonna be a little bit hard, a hard road to try to win.”

The Spartans’ 34 points against the Cavaliers is their season high, with the next top total coming in a 29-14 Week 8 win against Jefferson City.

Battle enters the matchup scoring 15.9 points per game after a 42-7 loss to finish the season hosting Hannibal.

The Spartan offense has been led by signal caller Alex Fernandez, who has completed 106-of-202 (52.5 percent) of his passes this season for 1,456 yards, 12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Fernandez had some early-season struggles with interceptions, throwing at least one in the team’s first five games, but has tossed only one in the four games since.

His main target has been Daqual Wright, who has totaled 43 catches for 556 yards and 5 touchdowns, including an eight-catch, 109-yard day with two touchdowns against the Cavaliers in Week 2.

“I think our corners have gotten better (since Week 2),” Collier said. “… I think our guys trust in their technique now. Early in the season, they didn’t know. I think they’ve learned more about themselves and their gonna be up for the challenge.”

On the ground, Battle has mostly used Kee’on Marshall, who has 142 rushes for 607 yards and two touchdowns, but has also gone to Chris Brown who showed his explosiveness with a 10-for-213 day with two touchdowns against Hickman to build a 47-rush, 358-yard season with three touchdowns in only six games played.

That Battle offense will face a Cavalier defense allowing 26.9 points per game, but has posted performances of 21, 7 and 20 in Capital City’s past three games.

“Offensively, they are probably gonna do much of the same,” Collier said. “They do what they do, a lot like we do what we do. We’re gonna see some 12 personnel and some zone read and they’ll get their receivers some shots downfield.”

On the other side, Capital City’s offense, which averages 37.2 points per game after finishing the season with showings of 48, 49 and 35, will go against a Battle defense allowing 33.1 points per contest.

“If I would go back and watch us (to scout) I think I would do something similar to what Helias did,” Collier said. “A 5-3 defense and jump into some 4-4.”

Capital City’s run-heavy offense has totaled 3,188 rushing yards this season, led by Jaylen Thomas with 1,786 on 163 attempts for an average of 11 per carry. Thomas leads the team with 26 touchdowns after totaling 10 scores and 799 yards the past three games.

Quarterback Evan Schaffer has worked his way into the second-leading rusher role with 534 yards on 78 carries and five rushing touchdowns to go with his three passing touchdowns, as running backs Phillip Richardson and Nehemiah Hamilton have both missed time the past handful of games.

Richardson is the team’s third rusher with 521 yards on 62 carries with eight touchdowns on the ground and one through the air, while Hamilton has three rushing scores and a receiving touchdown with 276 rushing yards on 49 attempts.

“Their D-line has been pretty consistent,” Collier said. “Their D-line is the strength of the defense. They’ve been able to keep them in games.”

Notes: The series between the Cavaliers and Spartans is tied at two with Capital City winning 41-32 in the regular season last year and Battle winning 52-12 in 2020. Battle’s win in district play last year is the lone postseason matchup. … The winner will move on to face the winner of No. 2 Camdenton hosting No. 7 Rolla. Either would host Rolla or go on the road to face Camdenton. On the other side of the bracket, No. 4 North Point and No. 5 Washington play today for the chance to hit the road to play top-seeded Helias. … Cohen Davis leads the Cavalier defense with 65 tackles, including four for loss, while Landen McNeil has 60 tackles, 11.5 for loss and a team-high five sacks. Matt Wiegand is third on the team with 56 tackles, including three for loss, while Isaiah Franklin has 51 tackles and an interception. Brooks Horton has 50 tackles, including 11.5 for loss, a sack, an interception returned for a touchdown and a forced fumble and fumble recovery. Reyce Turner leads the Cavaliers with 21.5 tackles for loss, while Jaelin White has 15, with four sacks, and Eli Jahr has 13.5. Chase Atkinson leads the Cavaliers with two interceptions.