The end

Jays coach Ted LePage hugs his son, Jays QB Thomas Lepage, after JC's 7-0 loss to Francis Howell in the Class 6 District 3 semifinals.

First things first.

The Missouri Tigers put up a game effort in Saturday's 14-7 loss at Florida.

They certainly did not get swamped in the Swamp.

The Tigers, now 4-5, haven't quit. Some teams --- at this point in the season and playing on the road as a 16-point underdog against the No. 7 team in the country --- would have.

Not quitting is a good thing.

On this day, the defense was better than good. Sheldon Richardson's NFL stock is still on the rise, as he continues to be a dominant force against the most dominant offensive linemen in college football.

The offense? Well, not so good.

James Franklin had some quality moments. But he also had some pass attempts that were uglier than a fat, homely guy hitting on Britney Spears.

No chance.

Four Franklin interceptions, including the game-ender in the end zone with 6 seconds left, was too much to overcome.

Still with a chance ... several area high school football teams including Hickman, Helias, California, Centralia, Blair Oaks, South Callaway and Tipton.

Two of those teams will be done after Monday night, as California plays Centralia and Blair Oaks meets South Callaway. Two good teams who've had good seasons will play for the last time.

But that's what happens as you get deeper into the postseason. There are no more MMAs or Calvary Toltons on the schedule.

Then you have the Jefferson City Jays, who saw their last chance slip away Friday night in a season-ending 7-0 loss at Francis Howell.

"You're never excited about a loss, but there wasn't one player on the field who didn't give it everything they had," Jays coach Ted LePage said. "They really played hard.

"Our defense just flat shut them down, except for one play. One play, that's all they had. We had some opportunities on offense, but Francis Howell was able to make some plays to keep us out of the end zone."

The Jays end the season at 7-4.

"It's one of the funnest years I've ever had in coaching," LePage said. "These guys came every day and worked very hard, sometimes the ball just didn't bounce our way.

"We won some games this year against some great opponents, and we lost some games by the hair of our chinny-chin-chin. If the right break happens Friday night, we're still playing."

In seven years under LePage, the Jays are 54-24 with two trips to the semifinals. For most schools and communities, this would be considered good stuff.

This isn't most schools and communities. This is a school and community spoiled by gaudy, unparalleled success for decades.

* a 71-game winning streak in the 60s, which was a national record for a long, long time.

* three consecutive state championships in the 70s

* two state championships in the 80s. From 1986-97, a span of 12 seasons, the Jays lost a total of four ---- FOUR --- games in the regular season.

* five state championships in the 90s, including four in five years from 1990-94.

For Pete's sake, they were good.

Now, anything short of a state championship is deemed a disappointment by many fans. Like it or not, that's the way it is.

The Jays haven't won one since 1997.

"Our goal is always to be the best in the state. Period," LePage said. "I feel like we've been able to put a team on the field that can compete with anybody in the state."

One link to the glory days, Ron Cole, says he will return next year as defensive coordinator. That would be the third year back for Cole, 66, who was a long-time assistant to Pete Adkins --- and the team's head coach for seven years, post-Pete --- before he retired after the 2001 season.

"I plan to be back," Cole said. "You get attached to these kids and you want to help them out."

LePage has the same plans.

"As long as they'll have me," he said, "I want to be head coach of the Jays."

But what if it's not his choice?

"I'm confident I'll be back," he said. "We're already getting ready for next season.

"We're excited about it."

LePage is the eternal optimist. If he had stock in 8-track tapes and the video game Pong, he knows those stocks would bounce back.

But this weekend, it was time to say good-bye to this season and these seniors, including LePage's son, Thomas. The two had a long embrace on the field when Friday's game, and this season, came to an end.

"Thomas is my son, yes, and it was very emotional," LePage said. "But it's emotional with all the seniors.

"You develop a relationship with these young people and you watch them grow into terrific young men. It's just really hard that you're not going to have that bond with them anymore.

"But I told them that if this is the worst day of you life, then you're going to have a great life."

So very true.

And so is this: It's 15 years and counting since the school's last football state championship and they will, at some point and in some year, win another one.

But it's time for the Jay fans to wrap their heads around this and accept this fact of football life ---it will never be what it was in the 60s, 70s, 80's and 90s.

Who's to blame? Nobody. The guy they named the stadium after was just too good for too long, it won't happen again. It's not possible.

Like it or not, that's the way it is.