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story.lead_photo.caption Zach Woehr (6) of Helias brings down a Centralia runner during Jamboree action last month in Wardsville. Photo by Mark Wilson / California Democrat.

It will be a special night for Chris Hentges.

Tonight, Helias is scheduled to host the Vianney Golden Griffins in Hentges' first home game in his return as head coach of the Crusaders. And he gets to do it in a stadium named for his Hall of Fame father, former Helias coach Ray Hentges.

"I've thought about this for a while, what it's going to mean to walk out at the stadium," Chris Hentges said. "It will be a special moment for everyone, the first home game, but particularly special for me.

"Not too many people have the opportunity that I have gotten, first to get the second chance at a job you like so much and second, to get a chance to coach a team at a beautiful facility named for your father. I know it will be emotional for me.

"It's going to mean a whole lot to me and my family and I'm looking forward to it."

Hentges knows he can't allow himself to get caught up in the moment for too long. Tonight's game is a clash of state-ranked teams — Helias (2-0) is No. 9 in the Class 4 Missouri Media Rankings while Vianney (1-1) is No. 4 in Class 5.

"Vianney is a great program with solid coaching and great athletes," Hentges said. "They're really come on recently as a program."

Kyren Willams (5-foot-10, 200-pound sr.) is a standout on the Vianney offense, averaging more than 200 total yards per game this season.

"They will put him in different places to get him the ball," Hentges said.

Williams, who committed to Notre Dame early in the summer, has run 16 times for 183 yards (11.4 avg.) and caught nine passes for 220 yards (24.4 avg.). He's scored six touchdowns — two rushing, three receiving and one on a fumble recovery.

He also is Vianney's punter, averaging 43 yards per attempt.

"He can hurt you in so many ways," Hentges said. "He's so strong and so balanced. He doesn't go down very easily, he can bounce off tackles and get extra yards."

The Vianney offense is averaging 472 yards per game.

"They have speed all over," Hentges said. "You can't key on (Williams) too much, they've got a lot of other weapons."

Percy Mitchell is second on the Griffins in rushing with 172 yards (6.1) and has run for a pair of scores.

John Griffin is the Vianney quarterback. The 5-11, 180-pound junior is 28-of-47 passing for 385 yards and five touchdowns to go along with two interceptions. He's also run for 92 yards (7.1 avg.).

"He's the guy that distributes the ball to the players that need it, but you can't overlook him as a weapon," Hentges said.

The Crusaders know they may have their hands full with the Griffins' offense.

"The kids understand what we're trying to accomplish defensively and keep them from exploding on the scoreboard," Hentges said.

Lane Allison (5-11, 165 sr.) and Devin Ward (5-10, 185 jr.) lead the Griffins in tackles with 22 stops each. Allison is a linebacker, while Ward is a member of the Vianney secondary in a 3-3-5 defensive formation.

Helias showed progress on the defensive end last Friday night at Hickman, especially against the Kewpies run game.

"The defense took a big step forward," Hentges said. "We got some stops, we got some three-and-outs."

On the flip side, Hentges is looking for more from Helias' run game. The Crusaders are averaging a little more than three yards per carry through two games and he said that's not good enough.

"In this offense in the past, we've been closer to six or seven," Hentges said. "We really need to get better at running the football."

Picking up yards early in possessions will be a key for the Crusaders.

"We are going to need to be strong on first and second down," Hentges said. "We can't get behind the chains against Vianney."

Hentges isn't looking for perfection tonight from his team. Just something close to it.

"As coaches and players, our execution is going to have to be almost perfect," Hentges said. "We're going to have to be on point in all phases."

The game was not on Helias' original schedule. The Crusaders were supposed to play St. Mary's in a AAA Conference contest this week. But when Helias pulled out of the league, St. Mary's dropped the game. Vianney was the last game added to Helias' schedule, that coming during the spring when the Griffins dropped their opponent this week.

"We knew this was going to be a challenging game for us," Hentges said. "A first-year head coach playing a talented returning group. But the kids have worked hard in practice all week, the coaches are locked in and we're excited about the challenge."

No matter what happens, it will be a memorable night for Hentges.

"For our program, which has such a rich tradition, to have a place to call home and for me to get my first chance to coach on our truly home field, it's going to be special," he said.

Game time is 7 p.m.


With potential bad weather looming, the two schools have talked about moving the game to Saturday if conditions call for it. Vianney can't play Saturday afternoon because many of its players are taking the ACT. Michael Strosser, a senior, will play limited action on the Helias offensive and defensive lines after missing the first two games with an injury The Griffins have started the season against two foes who should be familiar to area fans. Vianney opened with a 51-28 loss to Fayetteville, Ark., before besting Bishop Althoff ((Ill.) 62-17 last week. Fayetteville has played Jefferson City through the years, while Helias had a recent four-game series against Althoff. Helias is looking to cut down on its penalties. The Crusaders were flagged 11 times for 95 yards last week after getting just four penalties in their opener. Helias hits the road again next Friday, playing at Cardinal Ritter. Ritter is ranked No. 2 in Class 3 this week.

Related Media: Helias Crusaders Football Podcast [Vianney preview, Sept. 7, 2018]

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