COLUMBIA — The first permanent lighting over Fr. Tolton Regional Catholic High School's football field was finished Tuesday. It's a sign the team is ready to build on its foundation after its first three years as the new program in Columbia.
The Trailblazers take on the Harrisburg Bulldogs on Friday, a team it beat 41-0 in Harrisburg's first game as a varsity team.
Head coach Chad Masters said he's been reminding the Trailblazers how far a team can come in one year. He cited the team's 61-0 loss against Southern Boone County in its 2012 season, only to come back the next year and lead Southern Boone County late into the fourth quarter before losing 32-28.
"We could've beaten that team, and it was just a one-year flip," Masters said.
The Trailblazers finished the 2013 season with a 2-8 record. Last year's average margin of defeat was 36.9 points, but that was still a marked improvement.
"It's our third varsity year," Masters said. "I think the biggest thing we've talked about is closing the competitive balance ... to where every game is within that reach."
Harrisburg coach Travis Kinkade said Tolton isn't the only improved team for Friday night's matchup.
"We've had a great offseason," Kinkade said. "We're still in year two, but we've progressed a lot."
Friday's game versus Tolton marks not only Harrisburg's second year with a football program, but its first full season on the varsity level. Kinkade said the Bulldogs had a 5-2 record as a junior varsity team and a 0-2 record on the varsity level in 2013. Masters said Tolton's opponent is a much improved team from what he's seen already.
"Their path is similar to ours. I've been there before, developing a program," Masters said. "Coach Kinkade and his staff are doing an excellent job there."
To close the "competitive balance" during Friday night's game, Tolton will be relying on the leadership of seven seniors, four of whom have been with the program since its first junior varsity season in 2011.
"Jacob Gibson, Christian Elliott, Caleb Lucero and Jon Steinmetz ... they're almost like coaches extended from us," Masters said. "They understand, now, what our expectations are ... the language that we speak and sometimes even where my mind is going, they know it before."
Masters said Tolton and Harrisburg have developed a bit of a rivalry in a variety of sports including basketball and baseball. The two schools are only 30 minutes apart, and Masters said the Harrisburg fans travel well. Both coaches expect a good turnout at Friday's game.
The Tolton-Harrisburg game will start 7 p.m. at Fr. Tolton Regional Catholic High School, 3351 E. Gans Road.
Supervising editor is Raymond Howze.