Rock Bridge can measure season's progress against 6-1 Helias Friday

4 weeks 1 hour 17 minutes ago Thursday, October 17 2019 Oct 17, 2019 Thursday, October 17, 2019 11:27:14 PM CDT October 17, 2019 in Friday Night Fever
By: Liad Lerner, Columbia Missourian

Van Vanatta wasn’t moving around as much as he usually does at Rock Bridge’s practices this week.

The football coach was on crutches Tuesday after undergoing a minor back surgery, but he had already left them behind by Wednesday. He expects to recover fully before Friday’s game against Helias.

By that time, Vanatta will be more worried about how successful his running backs are at moving around than about his own mobility. Bryce Jackson and Miles Cheatum have been on a tear recently and have scored a combined 10 touchdowns since the start of Rock Bridge’s three-game winning streak. Cheatum, especially, has been turning heads with three touchdown runs of 50 or more yards in that span.

“We just do what we can every game,” Jackson said. “Our goal is to help our team win. Performance is important to me and I want to perform well for my team.”

But even in the purple patch that the pair finds itself playing in right now, it will take some effort to eclipse former Bruin running back Nate Peat’s performance against the Crusaders last year. The current Stanford running back amassed four touchdowns and 376 yards in Rock Bridge’s 52-28 victory in 2018.

One of the team’s biggest questions heading into the season was how adequate Jackson, Cheatum and Peyton Carr would be in replacing the Bruins all-time leading rusher. Carr hasn’t played in the position since going down with a hamstring injury in Week 3, and while Jackson and Cheatum have really kicked-on recently, they were inconsistent early in the season.

“I think we’ve improved a lot,” Cheatum said. “We weren’t really hitting the holes in the beginning and we weren’t blocking that well in the beginning. But now everyone’s blocking well and we’re hitting the holes better. Our vision is better and we’re just getting the job done.”

Friday’s game could act as a real measuring stick for how well the 2019 Bruins have done in moving on from Peat.

But this evaluation doesn’t have to stop at the running back position. Rock Bridge began the season 0-4 after losing to teams that now have a combined record of 19-9. They have since blown out three teams with a combined record of 4-17. It is difficult to determine how much of the Bruins’ recent results have been due to genuine improvement in the team rather than worse opposition.

But the next two games against Helias (6-1) and Francis Howell (6-1) will once again offer stiff tests against quality teams. If the Bruins get past them, the games could serve as necessary momentum heading into the playoffs, which begin in November.

Rock Bridge will face Helias at 7 p.m. Friday at Helias High School in Jefferson City.

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