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story.lead_photo.caption Helias quarterback Jacob Weaver rolls out with the ball during last Friday night's game against Monroe City at Ray Hentges Stadium. Photo by Mark Wilson / California Democrat.

One big decision came out of staff meeting for the Helias coaches last Sunday night.

"We're not going to have any two-way starters," Helias coach Chris Hentges said as the Crusaders (3-4) prepare to take on the Rock Bridge Bruins (5-2) tonight in Columbia.

Helias has had as many as seven players starting on both sides of the ball this season. But at practice this week, players were designated as either primary offense or defense. The decision will have the biggest effect on the offensive and defensive lines.

"With so many of those guys starting both ways, we weren't able to make in-game adjustments on offense like we would want," Hentges said. "They come off the field and then go right back out on defense."

This isn't just a one-week plan. The Crusaders, who will still use the primary starters at times on the other side of the ball, will do this the remainder of the season.

"We talked about doing this in my earlier time coaching, we just never pulled the trigger," Hentges said. "It's a chance to see how it works. I think it's going to pay dividends.

"We're going to hopefully stay fresh, stay healthy for a what could be a deep run in the district playoffs."

But the start of the districts is still two games away and the Crusaders know they will have their hands full against the Bruins.

"It's an extremely talented football team, probably the most talented team we've played so far this year both offensively and defensively," Hentges said. "They are going to pose a tremendous challenge for us on both sides of the ball."

The Bruins average 30 points and 355 yards of offense through seven games.

Nate Peat (5-foot-10, 185 pounds) helps make the Rock Bridge offense go. The Stanford commit has rushed for more than 1,200 yards (8.4 avg,) and 12 touchdowns this season.

"He's the best one we've played, the best I've seen on tape in a lot of years," Hentges said. "He's absolutely an elite running back."

What makes Peat so good is the fact he has few weaknesses.

"Elite speed, the ability to read blocks, set up his blocks and then accelerate," Hentges said. "If he gets out in open space, you're not going to catch him.

"He's a guy that can run over you that also has the speed to run by you."

It will be a big test for a Helias defense that has had problems stopping the run this season. The Crusaders are allowing a little more than 235 rushing yards per game.

"We're going to have to try to corral him, to keep him in front of us and rally, rally, rally to make the tackle," Hentges said. "We've got to tackle better."

Grant Hajicek (6-4, 200) is the Rock Bridge quarterback. The junior has completed 75-of-142 passes for 984 yards this season out of the spread offense.

"He's an accurate passer that gets the ball where he needs to," Hentges said.

Hajicek's favorite target is Missouri commit Martez Manuel (6-1, 190), who has 20 catches for 396 yards.

"The big play is always around the corner with Rock Bridge, we need to make them earn their points," Hentges said."Every time they touch it, they have a chance to score."

That includes special teams as the Bruins have returned three kick for touchdowns.

"We're going to need to know where to kick it to keep it out of the hands of their returners," Hentges said.

It's just the latest in a series of opponents this season featuring multiple Division-I recruits.

"After 26 years of coaching, I don't think I've ever seen so much elite talent that we've played against," Hentges said. "At times, we've risen to the challenge, at times, it's been difficult for us to tackle all that speed and block that much size.

"But as a football coach, you're hoping those challenges make you better."

Defensively, the Bruins have two shutouts in their last three games and are allowing just 14 points per contest.

Rock Bridge employs a 3-4 defensive front.

"It's suffocating," Hentges said. "They really make it difficult for your run game and difficult for you to get long gains because of their speed."

The Bruins are often in man coverage in the pass game.

"You're going to have to take some shots, maybe eke out a run game and hope to win some one-on-one matchups outside," Hentges said. "You have to run against them, but the pass game is where you have to try to make some yards."

Protecting the quarterback is key against Rock Bridge.

"They can bring more than you can block and you have to be ready to pass the ball," Hentges said.

Hentges knows the Crusaders are the underdogs tonight, as well in next week's regular-season finale against the De Smet Spartans.

"It's about us rising to the challenge," he said. "We need to get four good quarters from everybody. We know we're the underdogs, but we can play an inspired game.

"Improvement is going to be on how tough we play, how we tackle and block, our effort and intensity," Hentges added. "We know we will be tested in all phases by two elite opponents to close the regular season to get us ready for districts.

"We want to improve and continue to make step that we are ready to compete for a district title."

Game time is 7 p.m.

III

It's Homecoming tonight for Rock Bridge. The Bruins defeated the Crusaders 58-30 last year in Helias' Homecoming game. Helias' last win against Rock Bridge was a 10-7 decision in 2015. Ethan Johnson, who has been out with a shoulder injury, will start at safety tonight for the Crusaders. "He does a great job of tackling in the open field," Hentges said. Caleb Justice will be back for the Crusaders after missing the last two games. Senior lineman Michael Stroesser is out with an injury and sophomore Dylan Kopp will start in his place on offense. Helias enters the week seeded fifth in the Class 4 District 5 standings and would currently travel to Union for its first postseason game. Rock Bridge, No. 6 in this week's Missouri Media Rankings, is seeded third in the Class 6 District 3 standings. ... Rock Bridge is one of six of Helias' nine regular-season opponents ranked this week. De Smet is No. 5 in Class 6, Vianney is No. 4 in Class 5, Borgia is No. 10 in Class 4, Cardinal Ritter is No. 3 in Class 3 and Monroe City is No. 7 in Class 2. Hannibal, who Helias beat 35-34 in Week 1, is receiving votes in Class 4.

Related Media: Helias Crusaders Football Podcast [Rock Bridge preview, Oct. 12, 2018]

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