The Helias Crusaders are off to their second straight 2-0 start to the season.
But this one feels a little different.
"I feel like we're off to a good start just like last year, but the defense is sure playing at a higher level," Helias coach Chris Hentges said. "And with the second year in the system, I think the offense is playing at a higher level than we were at this time last year."
That undefeated start figures to be put to a stiff challenge tonight as Helias travels to St. Louis to take on the Vianney Golden Griffins (1-1, ranked No. 9 in Class 5). Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Vianney is the defending Class 5 state champion, but graduated a lot of its firepower on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
"Vianney is a still a very good team with a lot of talented athletes," Hentges said. "We're expecting our toughest test to date and this is an opportunity to find out where we're at as a football team."
The Golden Griffins defeated the Crusaders last year 42-7. But the game was competitive through much of the first half. It was scoreless until late in the first half when the Golden Griffins scored twice to take a 14-0 lead into halftime.
Vianney then broke the game open early in the third quarter.
"We gave them those quick points and they poured it on in the second half and the game got out of hand," Hentges said. "I feel like our defense can hold them to under 42 this year."
The potent 1-2 punch of Keryn Williams, now at Notre Dame, and Percy Mitchell, now at Washburn, did much of the damage for the Golden Griffins. Williams ran nine times for 95 yards and a touchdown, while catching seven passes for 57 yards and a score. Mitchell picked up 154 yards rushing, including 120 in the second half.
"I think we'll be better prepared this year to compete for a full four quarters," Hentges said.Helias wasn't helped by committing seven turnovers with four interceptions and three lost fumbles in the game.
"We've done a much better job of taking care of the football this year," Hentges said.
Griffin John returns for his senior season at quarterback for Vianney. The senior is 28-of-38 passing for 290 yards and one touchdown this season. He has thrown three interceptions. John was 15-of-22 for 128 yards and two scores last year at the Crusader Athletic Complex.
"He's the conductor of the offense, he gets the ball where it needs to go," Hentges said.
Under new head coach Chad Masters, Vianney is throwing the ball more this season.
"It's an efficient offense," Hentges said. "We have to play strong assignment football on defense. They have so many athletes, if we break down, it's a big play waiting to happen."
Defensively, the Golden Griffins are big and talented up front.
"They are very athletic and can get off the ball," Hentges said. "They're elusive and hard to block and will put the pressure on the quarterback."
Tonight's game is about the two Ps — possessions and penalties.
"We want to get a lot of three-and-outs on defense to get us the ball back for more opportunities," Hentges said. "Penalties kill drives on offense and extend drives on defense. We've only had three penalties in each of our first two games and we need to keep that going."
It's Helias' first road game of the season.
"We've always traveled well, the players know this is a business trip and we will treat it as such," Hentges said. "I don't expect for us to be nothing less than ready to play."
The Crusaders appear to be more comfortable entering Week 3 of the season in Hentges' second year back as head coach.
"We had that on both sides of the ball then, swagger, confidence, call it what you want when I was here before with coach (defensive coordinator Phil) Pitts," Hentges said. "It's the belief that you are a good football team that has a chance to win every time you step on the football field.
"I think that's something we may have struggled with during the last few years and we're trying to rebuild that. And nothing rebuilds that better than winning, winning builds confidence."
Notes: Vianney, which also won the Class 5 state title in 2016, opened the season with a 54-0 loss at Fayetteville, Ark., before defeating Bishop Althoff (Ill.) 34-20 at home last Friday. Helias is familiar with Masters, who came to Vianney after coaching for several years at Father Tolton. The Vianney grads made their college debuts last week. Williams returned one kick for 16 yards in Notre Dame's opener against Louisville, while Mitchell ran five times for 43 yards and two touchdowns for Washburn in its opener last Thursday against Lincoln. Helias likely will be without backup running back Brody Mays, who was injured in practice Wednesday. Mays, a senior, is second on the team with 117 rushing yards while scoring three touchdowns. Helias is back in action next Saturday when it hosts Cardinal Ritter for Homecoming at Ray Hentges Stadium.