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story.lead_photo.caption Jake Warren of Helias fights through a tackle attempt by Rock Bridge cornerback Jackson McFadden after making a catch in the flat during a game last month at Ray Hentges Stadium. Photo by Kris Wilson / California Democrat.

With the start of the postseason, everybody is back to 0-0.

That doesn't mean you just forget about the regular season.

"If someone had asked me back in August would I take 8-1 with the schedule we had? I would have," Helias coach Chris Hentges said as the Crusaders prepare to face the Rolla Bulldogs (4-5) in their Class 4 District 5 opener at 7 p.m. today at Ray Hentges Stadium.

"It's been an outstanding season, but we need to remember there are a lot of important things still ahead of us."

The Crusaders, No. 7 in the final regular-season Missouri Media Rankings, improved by four wins from Hentges' first year back at the helm in 2018.

"Anytime you can come out with four wins against somebody that beat you the year before, that's a positive," Hentges said.

Helias is coming off a 49-3 loss last Friday night at Class 6 No. 1 De Smet. While the Crusaders didn't spend much time dissecting that loss, Hentges said the team can take some things away from that game.

"Sometimes it's better to play a game like that than to play a team that can't stay on the field with you, that was just a hill too high to climb with their talent," Hentges said. "But it was a chance for us to get better."

Many of the positives for the Crusaders came in the second half.

"We got a couple of stops, we moved the ball," Hentges said. "You want to see kids try to execute their assignments, playing to the whistle, things like that.

"We know no matter how deep we go into the playoffs we won't see anybody that comes close to the talent that De Smet has."

Rolla, the No. 7 seed in the district, ended its regular season by snapping a four-game losing streak with a 58-6 victory at Springfield Central. Four of the five losses for the Bulldogs have come against ranked teams.

"It's been a tough schedule for them, so we know they are going to come into our game very prepared," Hentges said. "We are expecting to see their best effort.

"When you look at their season as a whole, there's a lot to like."

The Bulldogs are a ground-and-pound offense out of the wishbone that averages 25.4 points per game. Rolla has six players who have run for more than 160 yards per game and average 245 yards on the ground.

"I am expecting them to see them try to run the ball against us, try to control the clock and keep our offense off the field," Hentges said.

Colton Franks (5-foot-10, 210 pounds sr.) has a team-high 616 yards on 110 carries (5.6 avg.) and eight touchdowns from his fullback spot.

"He's a load," Hentges said.

Dawit Pritchett (5-5, 130 sr.) is next with 391 yards (7.1 avg.) and six touchdowns. Malachi Ray (6-0, 185 jr.) has 375 yards (5.2) with five scores, while Jack Hounsom (6-2, 165 sr.) has 286 yards (5.0) and four touchdowns at his quarterback spot.

"It's a power, downhill running team," Hentges said. "They've got some playmakers in the backfield."

But the Crusaders can't afford to get caught fully concentrating on the run. Hounsom has completed just 26 passes this season, but they've gone for an average of 22.5 yards per reception and six have resulted in touchdowns. Issac Hunter paces the Bulldogs with 16 catches for 411 yards (25.7 avg.) and five scores.

"They've got some guys that can win 1-on-1 matchups," Hentges said. "You have to play single coverage and if they beat you on play-action, it's going to be a big play."

The Helias offense isn't quite sure what it will see from Rolla when it comes to formation. The Bulldogs have played four different defensive fronts this year.

"They've played a lot of unique offenses and they've made some adjustments," Hentges said. "We've seen all four of them at some point this season, so we're able to draw from those experiences from what we've faced."

Franks leads the Bulldogs with 91 total tackles — 51 solo stops — and six tackles for loss.

"He's one of the better linebackers we've seen this season," Hentges said.

Rolla is allowing an average of 31 points per contest.

Helias junior quarterback Zach Wolken will get his fourth start since replacing the injured Jake Weaver.

"I see his confidence improving each day," Hentges said.

Helias will look to the running back tandem of Alex Clement and Brody Mays to take some of the pressure off Wolken.

"We're going to have to lean on them, we know we have to do a good job of running the football," Hentges said.

This will be the first playoff game in the three-year history of Ray Hentges Stadium.

"The first true home playoff game will be special," Chris Hentges said.


Notes: This will be first time Helias and Rolla have met on the football field since 1981 when both were in the Mid-State Conference. That was Hentges' sophomore season at Helias, who joined the North Central Missouri Conference the following year. Helias starting center Noah Morrow will be a game-time decision with an injury. Tate Heislen will start if Morrow is unable to go. "We are very comfortable and confident with Tate," Hentges said. Cole Stumpe of the Crusaders broke his ankle in a JV game Monday against Blair Oaks and will be out the rest of the season. He's the fifth sophomore that was a starter on special teams or a key offensive and defensive backup out for the season, joining Ryan Klahr, Carson Brauner, Beau Bondurant and Will Herrbold. "Those guys made up about half of our special teams," Hentges said. "I've never seen anything like it." Helias practiced Wednesday inside Rackers Fieldhouse due to the weather, but was outside the rest of the week. Helias has been penalized just 38 times for 314 yards in nine games compared to 86 for 686 for its opponents. "We have played clean football for the most part this season and you love to see that as a coach," Hentges said. "Penalties kill drives on offense and extend drives on defense." Six teams in District 5 posted at least six wins in the regular season. With a win, Helias would host the winner of tonight's game between third-seeded Lebanon (7-2) and Union (6-3) next Friday night. Rolla would be on the road against either Lebanon or Union.

Related Media: Helias Crusaders Football Podcast [Rolla preview, Nov. 1, 2019]

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