It's a new feeling this week for the Helias Crusaders.
After opening the season with two wins, the Crusaders got the taste of defeat last Friday night in falling 42-7 to the Vianney Golden Griffins.
Helias will look to break back into the win column tonight when the Crusaders (2-1, ranked No. 10 in Class 4) travel to St. Louis to take on the Cardinal Ritter Lions (3-0, ranked No. 3 in Class 3).
"The kids have done everything we've asked them to do this week in practice," Helias coach Chris Hentges said. "It's been a great effort all week. I have no complaints.
"We're looking to get back on track (tonight). I think we'll be ready to go."
Cardinal Ritter features a group of talented skill players, much like Helias saw from Vianney.
Mekhi Hagens (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) is the Lions' quarterback. Hagens is 45-of-72 passing for 613 yards and eight touchdowns and no interceptions.
"He does a great job of distributing the ball to their athletes in space," Hentges said.Shamel Morrow (5-11, 205) is Cardinal Ritter's leading rusher with 243 yards (5.9 avg.) and three touchdowns. He has accounted for nearly 75 percent of the Lions' yards on the ground through three games.
"We are going to have to try to keep him between the tackles, not let him get outside where he can really hurt us," Hentges said.
Jameson Williams (6-2, 175 sr.) is a standout at receiver for the Lions. Ranked the No. 3 recruit in Missouri by 24/7 Sports, he has 15 catches for 311 yards and four touchdowns.
"It looks like he runs about a 4.4 40 because he has shown the ability to separate from people," Hentges said. "They are going to try to get the ball to him in a lot of different ways because he's such a dynamic athlete.
"We are going to have to know where he is at all times."
Williams is reportedly leaning toward attending Ohio State.
Cameron Coleman (5-11, 180 sr.), another receiver/defensive back, is the No. 7 recruit in the state. He reportedly is leaning toward Missouri. Coleman has 14 catches for 134 yards and a touchdown while recording 18 tackles on defense.
"When you face a team with this much speed, you really have to gang-tackle," Hentges said. "One guy there is not going to be enough against elite speed like Cardinal Ritter has."
The talent is on both sides of the ball.
The Lions feature a pair of shutdown cornerbacks in Caleb Roberson (5-11, 170 sr.) and Keith Jones (5-10, 175 sr.). Roberson, the No. 29 recruit is uncommitted, while Jones, at No. 41, has committed to Western Michigan.
"They are going to press us in coverage with some great athletes," Hentges said.
Jeremiah Hayes (6-1, 280 sr.) is a standout on the Lions' defensive line. Hayes has 30 tackles to go along with four sacks and three fumble recoveries.
"He's difficult to block, single or double," Hentges said. "Our guards have their work cut out for them because slowing him down could mean a lot to our run game."
Hayes is part of a big line that also features some speed on the edges in a 4-4 front.
"We're going to have to work very hard to move the ball," Hentges said.
The run game is something the Crusaders are still working on developing in the spread offense this season. Helias is averaging just under 110 yards per game on the ground through three weeks.
"We aren't averaging as many yards per carry as I would like and that's been a point of emphasis in practice this week," Hentges said. "As a high school football team, we have to run the ball better than we have."
The run game could prove pivotal tonight to keep the ball away from the Lions' talented offense.
The Crusaders have had success through the air this season, totaling 645 yards. Starting sophomore quarterback Jake Weaver is 26-of-52 passing for 583 yards.
"Jake has done a great job with the deep ball and our receivers have done a good job going to get those passes," Hentges said.
One thing Helias will need to do a better job of his week is maintaining possession of the football. After committing just one turnover in the first two weeks, Helias had four interceptions and three lost fumbles against Vianney.
"You can't beat an average team when you turn it over that many times, much less a team as solid as Vianney, doing that," Hentges said. "We have to take better care of the football, take better care of where we throw it, make sure we secure it."
Hentges said the Crusaders have been concentrating on ball security at practice this week, as well as dealing better with a sudden change of possession on defense. But he didn't blame the raining conditions, noting Vianney only fumbled twice and recovered both.
"We didn't really play that badly, it just slipped away in the second half," Hentges said. "We got so far behind against a talented team, we couldn't come back."
Helias will face another talented team tonight in Cardinal Ritter.
"Every week is going to be a test, this is just another one," Hentges said. "You just want to have a good week of practice to try to prepare as well as we can."
Game time is 7 p.m.
As the season enters Week 4, four of Helias' remaining six opponents are undefeated — Cardinal Ritter, Monroe City, Borgia and De Smet. All are in the top 10 in their respective classes in this week's Missouri Media Rankings. "It's a tough schedule, we knew that when we put it together," Hentges said. The other two foes are Rock Bridge (2-1) and Father Tolton (1-2). Cardinal Ritter opened the season with an 82-0 pasting of Confluence Prep Academy before beating Cahokia, Ill., (20-12) and St. Dominic (12-10). Cardinal Ritter is a member of the AAA Conference, one Helias was supposed to join this season. They kept Helias on the football schedule, as did Borgia and Tolton. Helias starting linebacker Garrett Schnieders will miss tonight's game with an injury. Hentges said a rotation of players will fill in for Schnieders, Helias' leading tackler this season. Helias will play four of its final five regular-season games at home, starting next Friday against Borgia.