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story.lead_photo.caption Jefferson City's Darrell Jones runs past Kirkwood's Jacque Neal during a kickoff return in last Saturday's game at Adkins Stadium. Photo by Jason Strickland / News Tribune.

Last week, the Jefferson City Jays allowed more than 60 points for the first time since losing 65-59 to C.B.C. in 2016.

So what's the plan tonight in Hannibal against the Pirates?

"Keep them off the scoreboard," Jays coach Terry Walker said.

The Helias Crusaders did that last week in a season-opening 46-0 win against a team that averaged nearly 42 points per game last season on its way to a Class 4 district championship.

But quite a bit has changed for the Pirates since then. Mark St. Clair retired after 22 years as head coach and Quentin Hamner has taken over after one year at Keokuk, Iowa.

Hamner was an assistant coach at Staley when the Falcons won the Class 5 state championship in 2017.

Hannibal also has sophomore quarterback Courtland Watson getting accustomed to starting on the varsity level.

Watson completed 3-of-13 passes for 16 yards with two interceptions against Helias.

But what hasn't changed is who'll carry the ball for the Pirates.

"One kid that really gave us fits last year was a running back, No. 26," Walker said.

That would be junior running back Damien French, who ran 16 times for 137 yards and three touchdowns in last season's 30-27 loss to the Jays at Adkins Stadium.

French accounted for more than 60 percent of Hannibal's offense last week, when he gained 114 yards in 26 rushing attempts.

"He's a big kid, runs well, very, very, very physical," Walker said.

Down 33-0 at halftime, Hannibal drove all the way to the 8-yard line by using its rushing attack out of the I-formation with a pair of tight ends. The drive ended with an incompletion on fourth down.

"They have the ability to move the football in that formation," Walker said, "so that's the formation that we're most concerned about. Because we're fairly comfortable in the spread sets, and we match up fairly well with them in the spread sets.

"We just need to make sure we do a good job matching up when they're in that heavy set."

The Jays' defensive front showed flashes of being able to stop the run against Kirkwood.

After allowing a 9-yard run to Kan Drummond on second down in the second quarter, linebacker Jake Duke stuffed Nate Jones for a 3-yard loss.

That defensive stop led to a go-ahead touchdown on the ensuing drive.

In the fourth quarter, Michael Heislen brought down Jones for a loss of six yards to help force a punt.

The Jays then scored the game's final touchdown on the ensuing drive.

The Pioneers totaled 95 rushing yards, 58 coming on one play in the third quarter.

"I want to see us control the line of scrimmage," Walker said. "Last year, I don't know that I could say in the game that we controlled the line of scrimmage. They had the inside trap that they could go to almost whenever they wanted to. And they had a lot of big plays on the trap.

"We've got to do a good job of making sure that we're fundamentally gap sound and just play fundamental defense and we'll be just fine."

The Jays would like to force Hannibal to throw more often since the Pirates were accustomed to being a run-heavy team under St. Clair.

Plus, Walker is more confident in the individual matchups against the Hannibal receivers than what the Jays went up against last Saturday against the Kirkwood Pioneers, who had three players surpass 100 yards receiving while allowing Kannon Nesslage to toss nine touchdowns.

"They threw a lot of vertical balls against Helias, and we gave up a lot of vertical balls," Walker said. "So I would expect that we're going to see some vertical passing game out of them on Friday night, and we're going to have to do a good job of covering."

Walker has put in extra work with the defensive backfield this week to make sure everyone is able to do their assignments based on what Hannibal tries to throw at them.

"We've really got to do a good job of communicating," Walker said. "In the previous game, we were comfortable seeing a lot of the spread sets. And Hannibal does some things where they've tried to line up in some spread sets, but they've also lined up in double tight with two backs in the backfield. And then trying to make sure that we match up across the front, then also match up in the secondary so we don't give up a big play."

Big plays kept last week's game against Kirkwood close for the majority of the first half, with three of Jefferson City's four first-half scores being plays of at least 40 yards.

Walker would like to see the Jays have the ability to methodically drive down the field more often, which might be difficult against the Pirates.

"I think they did a good job controlling the run game for the most part," Walker said of Hannibal. "They gave up some bigger run plays in the second half, but for the most part I thought they did a good job early of kind of controlling the line of scrimmage for the run game.

"And then they gave up some big plays in the passing game, so those are all areas where we will try and work to stress the defense."

III

Notes: The Jays will be without receiver and linebacker Heislen because of an injury. Walker said Nick Williams could fill the spot on offense. There's a competition to take over at linebacker. "We've got a couple of different guys that have been working at the outside linebacker spot, so hopefully one of those guys will step up and want to take the position," Walker said.

Related Media: Jefferson City Jays Football Podcast [Hannibal preview, Sept. 6, 2019]

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