The schedule doesn't get any easier for the Helias Crusaders.
The goals haven't changed either.
"We're looking for another step forward," Helias coach Chris Hentges said as the Crusaders (3-5) prepare to host the De Smet Spartans (6-2) tonight in the regular-season finale at Ray Hentges Stadium. "All you can do is ask your team to get better each week.
"We definitely can build off of some things we did in that game."
Even though it might not have shown in the final score, last Friday night's 52-28 loss at Rock Bridge was Helias' best effort since early in the season.
The Crusaders and the Class 6 sixth-ranked Bruins went toe-to-toe in the first half, with Rock Bridge taking a 17-14 lead into intermission.
"The first half was a good half," Hentges said. "We were right there."
The game got away from the Crusaders in the third quarter as Bruin running back Nate Peat went off for 261 rushing yards and three touchdowns on just nine carries.
"His ability allowed him to make some big plays and put some distance between us," Hentges said. "But we kept battling, we didn't give up."Helias finished with a season-high 321 passing yards while totaling 16 first downs against Rock Bridge.
"When you score that many points and move the ball against a quality defense like Rock Bridge has, you have to be pleased," Hentges said.
Hentges was hoping to get more going in the run game, which totaled just 50 yards on 30 carries.
"I wish we would have been able to get a little more there," he said. "But that defense wasn't going to give us much between the tackles."
De Smet is No. 5 in Class 6 this week in the Missouri Media Rankings after struggling in recent seasons.
"They were playing a lot of young kids who are now juniors and seniors," Hentges said. "You're going to take your lumps when you do that, but it can pay dividends down the road like it is doing for them now."
The Spartans are led by senior quarterback Nate Martens, a four-year starter who recently committed to Northern Iowa. He is ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 29 player in Missouri.
"He makes it all go," Hentges said. "He distributes the ball so well to all of their athletes."
Martens (6-foot-3, 225 pounds) is 77-of-128 passing for 1,340 yards this season. He has thrown for 16 touchdowns to go along with six interceptions.
"He can make all the throws they ask him to make," Hentges said. "He's got the arm strength to throw it deep, he can get it out in the quick game."
As a sophomore, Martens started against the Crusaders at Adkins Stadium. The lefty was 18-of-42 through the air for two touchdowns and four interceptions in a 50-27 Helias victory.
Last year in St. Louis, Martens was just 6-of-9 for 115 yards in a 38-31 Spartan victory. That was the first win of the season for De Smet.
After throwing the ball early and often through their first eight games, the Spartans showed a strong run game in last year's win against the Crusaders. Rico Barfield, who had run for 283 yards through the first eight games, had 156 of De Smet's 208 yards on the ground in the win.
The Crusaders can expect to see that more balanced attack again tonight. The Spartans have run for 1,638 yards and thrown for 1,409 this season.
Darez Snider leads De Smet with 81 carries for 586 yards (7.2 avg.) and nine touchdowns. Taj Butts is next with 465 yards on 70 carries (6.6) and four scores, while Barfield has 297 yards on 53 attempts (5.6) and two touchdowns.
The Spartans feature a bevy of talented receivers, led by Jordan Johnson. Johnson has 19 receptions for 587 yards (30.9) and eight touchdowns. He caught what proved to be the game-winner against the Crusaders last season, a 23-yard reception midway through the fourth quarter.
Johnson, a junior, has received more than 20 offers from schools such as Notre Dame, Alabama, Auburn, Florida and Missouri.
Ra'shod Smith-Harvey leads the Spartans in catches with 30 for 374 yards and four touchdowns. Grant Stegman has 15 catches for 253 yards and three scores.
"They have high-end speed," Hentges said. "We're going to have to try to keep everything in front of us and not give up the big play."
De Smet is averaging 41 points in its six wins this season.
Defensively, the Spartans have allowed an average of eight points in their wins.
"I think their defense is better overall than Rock Bridge's," Hentges said. "They're big, they're fast, they're athletic."
It all starts up front for the Spartans.
"It might be the best front four we've seen all year, Hentges said. "They can get pressure on the quarterback all by themselves."
Defensive linemen Carter Edwards and Mehki Wingo both have four sacks for the Spartans. Lanell Carr, a linebacker, leads the team with five.
The Spartans run a 4-3 defense, with the secondary often in man coverage. Eight De Smet players have one interception this season.
Helias used one-way starters for the first time last week and Hentges was pleased with the new system.
"It gave us a chance to get the offensive line together for a few minutes to get us ready for the next series," Hentges said. "We're playing some young guys on the defensive line because of this, but they're getting some valuable experience."
The Crusaders are staying with that plan again this week
"We were a little more fresh at the end of the game," Hentges said. "I think it helped our stamina in the fourth quarter."
Game time is 7 p.m.
De Smet opened the season with three straight wins — Hazelwood Central (37-2), Rock Bridge (35-17) and St. Louis University High (35-7) — and have won their last three — Chaminade (34-16), Jefferson City (42-7) and Cape Girardeau Central (63-0). The winning streaks have sandwiched a pair of losses — C.B.C. (49-14) and Vianney (17-14). Helias lost 42-7 to Vianney in Week 3. Michael Stroesser will be back on the offensive and defensive lines tonight for Helias after missing the Rock Bridge game. Caleb Justice will be out tonight with a hip injury. Helias is currently No. 5 in the Class 4 District 5 standings and would need a win tonight to have any hope of moving up one spot to get a home game to start the postseason next week.