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story.lead_photo.caption Helias defensive lineman Jim Donovan tries to track down Father Tolton quarterback Robert Hunter during last Saturday night's game at Ray Hentges Stadium. Photo by Sally Ince / California Democrat.

The Father Tolton Trailblazers threw 23 passes in the first half in last Saturday night's game against the Helias Crusaders.

Tonight, the Crusaders will be facing a team that has thrown 22 passes all season.

"We have a tough challenge ahead of us this week," Helias coach Chris Hentges said as the Crusaders (3-3) prepare to take on the Monroe City Panthers (5-1) in a 7 p.m. contest at Ray Hentges Stadium.

"We're going from a team that's going to throw it 80 percent of the time to a team that's going to run it 90 percent of the time."

Monroe City will operate out of the run-based wing-T offense, the first time Helias has seen that particular offensive formation in years.

"They churn it out," Hentges said.

It's not uncommon for the Panthers to have drives measuring in double-digits in total plays.

"They just chew up time of possession," Hentges said. "They are very comfortable, they don't get rattled in that offense."

Zach Osborn (5-foot-9, 150 pounds) is a returning all-state performer at running back for the Panthers. The senior has rushed for 551 yards (11.5 avg.) and eight touchdowns this season.

"He's the latest of a series of great running backs we've seen this year," Hentges said. "You're not going to bring him down with an arm-tackle, you're going to have to wrap him up and finish."

Keenan Batsell (5-10, 180 sr.) leads the Panthers with 95 carries for 617 yards. He has scored six touchdowns. Monroe City quarterback Blake Hays is averaging 11.3 yards per carry and has scored three times. Hays is 9-of-22 passing for 139 yards.

Hentges said it's been an "interesting" week of preparation for the Crusaders on defense.

"Going from a spread team working to figure out how to slow the passing game to figuring out how to slow a running game in a wing-T is a big 180-degree turn," he said.

The Crusaders will operate out of their normal 4-3 front on defense against an offense that employs a lot of misdirection to confuse its opponent.

"We have to stay in our gaps, we can't get caught looking," Hentges said. "We have to be disciplined."

It's been all about the fundamentals this week in practice.

"We have been drilling the basics all week," Hentges said. "I think this work will help us down the road because we've done so much work the basics in practice this week."

The Helias defense will have to be prepared to play all four downs. Monroe City has punted just a handful of times through six games.

"As a play-caller in the wing-T, you figure 2 or 3 yards on a play is OK because you're going to have four plays to get a first down," Hentges said. "They are very efficient at what they do."

Helias was efficient in its run game last week against Tolton. The Crusaders ran the ball 42 times for 338 yards against the Traiblazers.

"We put the game on the shoulders of our offensive line," Hentges said. "They are the strength of our offense, a group of seniors with a lot of experience."

Zach Covington and Blake Veltrop proved to a potent 1-2 punch on the ground in the game.

"It's nice to have both of them on the team," Hentges said. "We were playing to each of their strengths."

Covington, seeing his first extensive action of the season, did the work between the tackles. The junior ran 25 times for 206 yards and two touchdowns.

"Zach looked great," Hentges said. "He proved he can tote the rock."

Veltrop ran just five times but picked up 125 yards and scored on runs of 60 and 57 yards as well as catching a pass from Jake Weaver 51 yards for a touchdown.

"Blake is the type of guy who when he gets the ball in space, he has the ability to take it to the end zone," Hentges said.

Helias will need to be efficient on offense.

"We might be lucky to have six possessions this week," Hentges said. "We have to be ready to execute on each of our plays on offense. It will be difficult to overcome turnovers and penalties because those kill drives and you might not see the ball for six or seven minutes.

"The beauty of the wing-T is that it can milk the clock and win tight ballgames."

Hentges also serves as Helias' offensive coordinator. He knows he will have to be patient.

"When a team is methodically marching down the field, you're getting anxious about getting the ball back," Hentges said.

The Panthers, who likely will run a 4-4 defense tonight, have four shutouts this season. Monroe City has a pair of all-state linemen in senior Jon Saxbury (6-1, 280) and Max Hays (6-2, 235).

"They are talented on defense," Hentges said. "We are going to have to be physical against them."

Helias was efficient on defense against Tolton. While they gave up 462 yards, the Crusaders didn't allow any big plays.

"Even though we gave up some yards, we did a good job of getting the stops when we needed them," Hentges said. "We kept everything in front of us."

The game against the Panthers was a late addition to the Crusaders' schedule after Helias pulled out of the AAA Conference.

"We were sitting in late spring with this week open and we were afraid this week was going to be open," Hentges said. "They approached us to play and we have a lot of respect for this team and this program.

"I think it's going to be a great game against a very talented team."

III

Monroe City won the Class 1 state title last season before moving up to Class 2. Carrollton has the smallest Class 2 enrollment in football at 189, with South Callaway next at 197. Monroe City has 198. Monroe City's 26-12 loss to Macon in Week 4 snapped its 18-game winning streak. ... Ethan Johnson, a senior, will be back in the lineup after suffering a shoulder injury three weeks ago against Cardinal Ritter. Johnson will be limited to being a receiver on offense. Hentges said the Crusaders are as healthy as they've been overall since the season opener. After it scores touchdowns, Monroe City always attempts a 2-point conversion. The Panthers, ranked No. 7 in Class 2, have outscored their opponents 194-48 This is the last of three straight home games for the Crusaders. Helias will wrap up its regular season slate with a pair of games against teams ranked in Class 6 — next Friday against Rock Bridge in Columbia and back home Oct. 19 against De Smet.

Related Media: Helias Crusaders Football Podcast [Monroe City preview, Oct. 5, 2018]

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