Last year, the Jefferson City Jays entered their first meeting against the Helias Crusaders riding a three-game winning streak.
Final — Helias 28, Jefferson City 0.
The Jays enter tonight's meeting with the Crusaders riding a three-game winning streak.
The second time around feels different.
"It's a better team," Helias coach Chris Hentges said as the Crusaders (5-1) get set to host the Jays (3-3) tonight in Central Missouri Activities Conference action at Ray Hentges Stadium. "It's a team coming here with tons of confidence.
"But we're a confident team, too. I think if you're a football fan here in town, you should come and watch because it should be a good one."
The premier matchup of the game figures to be the Helias defense against the Jefferson City offense.
Helias, which has two shutouts this season, has allowed a total of 435 rushing yards to its last four opponents. Last week, Jefferson City, operating out of a wing-T offense, scored 66 points and ran for 584 yards.
"I'm not saying (the run defense) will decide the game, but it will be an extremely important factor in the game," Hentges said.
As a team, Jefferson City has rushed 245 times for 2,132 yards (8.7 avg.).
"They have an unbelievable rush offense with the best running back we will see all year," Hentges said.
David Bethune leads the Jays in rushing with 883 yards (12.8 avg.). He had 14 carries for 234 yards in last Friday night's 66-31 victory against Hickman.
"He's such a weapon, he's by far faster than anyone we have on the field," Hentges said. "If we don't run to the football, gang-tackle, it's going to be a long night because we don't have anybody that can catch him, that's for sure."
Even with the gaudy numbers, Bethune didn't lead the Jays in rushing in the win against the Kewpies.
Kevion Pendelton racked up 291 yards on 23 carries, rushing for four touchdowns.
"He's proven to be quite a capable fullback," Hentges said. "He's definitely a weapon inside."
Pendelton, starting in place of the injured Will Berendzen, has 766 yards on 63 carries (12.2 avg.) this season.
Jefferson City's run success is the product of a pair of factors.
The first is a much-improved offense line.
"They are firing off the ball much better," Hentges said.
The second is starting quarterback Hayden Wells, son of new head coach Damon Wells.
"He obviously knows how this offense needs to be run," Hentges said. "You can see how much much more comfortable they are in the offense with a quarterback who understands the offense and has run it probably since the time he could walk."
Wells is a decision-maker in the offense. He has only run the ball 23 times for 5 yards and is 7-of-24 passing for 134 yards. Jefferson City is just 3-of-9 passing in its three victories.
The Helias defense will attempt to win first and second down to force the Jays into third-and-long.
"Putting them into a position where they don't want to be is a big key for our defense," Hentges said.
It's been a busy week for the Crusader defense to prepare for the wing-T. Helias has seen it a couple of times in recent seasons against Monroe City and last year against Capital City.
"In the era of spread, it gives teams that run the wing-T an advantage because it takes extra time to prepare for them," Hentges said.
Hentges said the defense has done well picking things up in practice.
"We're blessed with smart kids and they've adjusted to our game-plan pretty well," he said.
On offense, the Crusaders are expecting to see the Jays pack their defense at the line of scrimmage.
"It's going to create some problems for our offense," Hentges said.
This doesn't figure to be a low-scoring game.
"We believe we are going to have score points at a rapid rate because we believe they're going to score," Hentges said. "You can contain Bethune, but he's going to break some, that's how good a player he is.
"This is not going to be a 14-7 game. I think the offenses will put points on the board, even as good as the defenses are."
As always, turnovers could play a big role in deciding the winner. Helias fumbled the ball four times last Friday in a 31-0 win against Capital City.
"We cannot be as careless with the football as we were last week or we will get beat," Hentges said.
There is something special for Helias to host Jefferson City for the first time in football. But it's not quite like the first meeting between the two programs last year at Adkins Stadium.
"It was 60 years in the making, there was a lot of hype going into that game," Hentges said. "This will always be a special game moving forward, but that first meeting had a special significance I'm not sure you can ever replicate.
"Not that this isn't a big game, it has 100 percent of our attention. This is an important matchup, but not a historic matchup."
But one no football fan should miss.
"No matter which team wins, it's going to be a great night for high school football in Jefferson City," Hentges said.
Game time is 7 p.m.
Notes: For the season, teams are averaging 3.2 yards per carry against the Crusaders. Gage Wilde led Helias with eight tackles against Capital City. For the season, Wilde leads the team with 50 total tackles. Tyler Sandbothe is next at 39, while Beau Bondurant has 37. Wide receiver and defensive back Cole Stumpe will be back in the lineup tonight after missing the Capital City game with an injury. It will be Senior Night, with ceremonies beginning at 6 p.m. It is also Pink Out Night, with funds being raised for cancer research. Helias is 10-0 all-time in CMAC games. The Crusaders are No. 8 in Class 5 in this week's Missouri Media Rankings.