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story.lead_photo.caption The Helias Crusaders take the field prior to last Friday night's game against the Borgia Knights at Ray Hentges Stadium. Photo by Jenna Kieser / California Democrat.

It was back to the basics in practice this week for the Helias Crusaders.

A three-game losing streak can do that.

"Blocking and tackling, what it means to be a football player," Helias coach Chris Hentges said as the Crusaders (2-3) prepared to host the Father Tolton Trailblazers (1-4) for Homecoming on Saturday night at the Crusader Athletic Complex.

The Crusaders wanted to take full advantage of the extra day of practice this week. So Tuesday, Helias focused fully on offense. On Wednesday, the focus went to the defense.

"It gave us a chance to really concentrate on the game plan on both sides of the ball," Hentges said. "I think it was helpful. I think we really improved as a football team on those two days."

There was more on the line than just practice pride.

"We had our No. 1 offense against the absolute best defense we could put out there and vice versa," Hentges said. "If the offense moved the ball, the defense had to run. If the defense got a stop, the offense had to run.

"Sometimes, you've got to put something on the line to get the competitive juices flowing. I think it will help get the kids zeroed in on playing physical football."

Helias has been beset with injuries in recent weeks. But Hentges thought it was time to bring physical play back to practice.

"We've been a little gun-shy about going 100 percent in practice because you don't want to get more guys injured," he said. "We weren't letting offensive guys finish blocks, we weren't letting defensive guys tackle to the ground.

"But we made the commitment this week to practice full-speed, no matter how thin we are."

The Crusaders are looking to improve on their mental side as well.

"We have to be able to handle those setbacks during a game and seize that momentum back," Hentges said. "We just haven't been able to do that much this year when things go bad. Things just seem to get worse.

"We had moments where we were close, but a series of big plays by our opponents, we weren't able to claw back from."

Father Tolton will bring a potent passing game to Ray Hentges Stadium.

Tolton quarterback Robert Hunter, an all-state selection last season when he threw for 2,639 total yards and 26 touchdowns, is having a strong senior campaign.

"He understands their offense," Hentges, who said Hunter is the best pure passer Helias has faced this season, said. "They have a very efficient pass game.'

Hunter is 117-of-213 passing for nearly 1,300 yards through five games. Helias saw Hunter during 7-on-7 competition in the summer.

"He's a really talented quarterback who can sling it all over the field to a talented group of receivers," Hentges said. "We're going to have to be keyed in on covering the routes."

Tolton has thrown on nearly 80 percent of its offensive plays this season. Getting pressure on Hunter could be a key for the Helias defense Saturday night.

"He delivers the ball very quickly and it's hard to get to him sometimes," Hentges said. "When you throw it in 1.5 seconds, it can be hard to get pressure on him,

Hunter operates behind a big offensive line that has some wide splits to help its rushing attack.

"They're trying to get natural running lanes," Hentges said.

The Trailblazers are averaging 23 points per game.

Defensively, the Crusaders will have to deal with junior Monroe Mills. Mills, a 6-foot-7, 280-pound junior, is drawing Division I attention from schools such as Missouri, Ohio State and Minnesota.

C.J. Campbell, a senior safety, is another standout on the defensive side for Tolton.

"He's their best athlete on the defensive side, he's smooth and polished," Hentges said.

Tolton has given up 40 or more points in each of its last four games.

Helias also has struggled on the defensive side in its last three games and is looking to get some help from its offense.

"We have to get a stop, get off the field and have the offense get some big plays," Hentges said. "We need to be more consistent on offense, sustain drives to help our defense to get some rest.

"We still have a long way to go as a football team. But we're very aware as a coaching staff of what we need to do and we're trying to improve on those things."

Hentges believes the Crusaders have the right attitude.

"The kids are positive, they're working hard and they haven't given up on this season," Hentges said. "They know there's still a lot ahead of us.

"We just have to take advantage of the opportunities we get when we get them. The players need to be accountable to make this a better football team as each individual."

Game time is 7 p.m. Saturday.

III

Helias and Tolton have both played Cardinal Ritter and Borgia this seasons. The Crusaders lost the two games by a combined score of 102-48, while the Trailblazers have lost by a combined 98-35. This is the first year in the AAA Conference for Tolton, a Class 2 school. It has played up at least one class in each of the last four weeks with those opponents having a combined record of 18-2. Helias defeated Tolton 24-20 last year in Columbia, with the Crusaders winning 53-0 in 2016 at Adkins Stadium Helias will be without Michael Clement, Ethan Johnson and Caleb Justice due to injuries tonight. "It's next man up and you have to get the job done," Hentges said. Garrett Schnieders, Helias' leading tackler, will be back at middle linebacker after missing the last two games.

Related Media: Helias Crusaders Football Podcast [Father Tolton preview, Sept. 29, 2018]

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