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story.lead_photo.caption Helias running back Blake Veltrop looks to break away from a slew of Hickman defenders during last season's game against the Kewpies at Ray Hentges Stadium. Photo by News Tribune

A new head coach, in his first game at his alma mater, leads his team to a big victory on the road in a game that came down to the final seconds.

That describes Chris Hentges, who led the Helias Crusaders to a 35-34 win last Friday night at Hannibal. It also describes Cedric Alvis, who led the Hickman Kewpies to a 23-20 win last Friday night at Pattonville.

"It's very, very similar," Hentges said as the Crusaders prepared to take on the Kewpies tonight in Columbia.

Alvis is Hickman's third head coach in the last three seasons. If one week is any indication, Hentges believes Alvis is the right man for the job for a program that had won just three games in the last four seasons.

"When you look at the film from last year, it didn't look like they played with a whole lot of heart or a whole lot of energy," Hentges said. "It's a different story this year. They play like they believe, you can see it."

The Crusaders got an up-close look at the new-look Kewpies on the JV level Monday night in a game Helias won 34-32.

"Their kids played so hard, you can see coach Alvis is building something special up there," Hentges said.

The Kewpies operate out of the pistol offense.

"They have a lot of athletes who they like to distribute the ball out in space," Hentges said.

The Crusaders are expecting to see the Kewpies employ multiple formations.

"We have to make sure we're sound with our assignments," Hentges said. "We have to rally to the football, communicate with each other to make sure everybody is in the right position.

"We need to make sure we have the correct eye-discipline, make sure we're seeing the correct things to see if it's a run or a pass play. That's something we struggled with a little bit last week and Hickman will be another challenge for us there."

Christian Davis is a threat for the Kewpies at running back. The 5-foot-9, 180-pound senior broke away for a 70-yard touchdown run last week against Pattonville.

"He's got the kind of speed you can't let out, because if you do, he can take it a long way," Hentges said. "Our defenders have to do a great job against him, that's how you contain a great running back."

Helias will be without Daniel Rhea the remainder of the season with a knee injury. Rhea, a senior, started at quarterback last Friday and led the Crusaders to their first touchdown. He also picked up a big first down late in the first half against the Pirates on a scramble on which he was injured prior to contact.

"He had some good throws and made some plays with his legs, which played to his strength," Hentges said. "You're seeing these non-contact injuries far too often these days.

"It's a shame because Daniel is such a great kid and a great leader. He won't be with us in pads, but he'll be with us around the team and help as much as he can."

Jake Weaver, a sophomore who battled Rhea for the starting spot throughout the summer, stepped in and threw a touchdown on his first snap to pull the Crusaders into a tie at 14 at the half. That was the first of four straight possessions he threw for touchdowns.

"Jake's a very good runner and good thrower, a dual-threat back there at quarterback," Hentges said.

Weaver has gotten the No. 1 reps in practice this week, with sophomore Zach Wolken getting the No. 2 reps.

"We try to get our No. 2s as many reps as we can during the week to give them as much a taste of the game-plan as possible," Hentges said. "We want to get him as many looks as we can."

Hentges said the change at quarterback won't bring about much of a change to the game-plan.

"We are going to expect any quarterback we play to be able to execute the game-plan," he said. "You obviously are going to tweak it a little bit to play to their strengths, but we think Jake is going to be able to execute anything we ask him to do."

One thing the Crusaders are looking to improve on is the run game between the tackles.

"I wish we could have established the run inside a little more, but that can be difficult against a 3-4 defense because it covers so many of the gaps," Hentges said.

But that left the outside passing game open to exploit against the Pirates.

"Football is taking advantage of what they are giving you," Hentges said. "Every defense has a weakness, it can take away one or two of your favorite plays, but you have to be ready to counter it."

Hentges said the Crusaders have lots of room for improvement.

"There are always going to be issues when you're installing a new offense and a new defense," he said. "We made our fair share of mistakes last Friday night, but those are going to happen.

"The guts, the grit, the belief to get it done is what I'm most proud of.

"It reminded me a lot of my first win in 2006, when we went up to Warrensburg and won in a see-saw game that went back and forth and ended up a one-point game. It was very exciting for the kids and the coaches to see all the hard work we put in during the summer pay off."

Today's game is scheduled for a 7 p.m. kickoff.

Notes: After tonight's game, the Crusaders will have just two road games in the final seven weeks of the regular season. Helias will head Sept. 14 to Cardinal Ritter in St. Louis and play Oct. 12 at Rock Bridge. Helias will open its home schedule next Friday night against Vianney at Ray Hentges Stadium. Alvis is the first Hickman football coach to win his first game with the Kewpies since Tom Travis in 1972. Helias junior Griffin Buschjost will miss 2-3 weeks with a knee injury suffered against Hannibal, Chris Hentges said. Michael Strosser, a senior, returned to practice this week for the Crusaders and the senior is scheduled to be back for the Vianney game on the offensive and defensive lines. ... Helias is No. 10 in Class 4 in the first Missouri Media state rankings released this week. Hickman received votes in the Class 5 rankings.

Related Media: Helias Crusaders Football Podcast [Hickman preview, Aug. 31, 2018]

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