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story.lead_photo.caption Players on the Helias sideline hold up their helmets during a kickoff in the season opener last month against Hannibal at Ray Hentges Stadium. Photo by Sally Ince / California Democrat.

Size, check.

Speed, check.

Athleticism, check.

The Cardinal Ritter Lions check all the boxes heading into Saturday night's game against the Helias Crusaders at Ray Hentges said.

"They have athletes all over the field, from the defensive line to the wide receivers," Helias coach Chris Hentges said. "Every positional group, they are more athletic than we are.

"But we know that, we know who we are. We're not those elite Division I athletes. But what we are is a tough group of 11 guys who are going to play smart, physical football and try to execute at a high level."

The teams bring records of 3-0 into the 7 p.m. game.

Cardinal Ritter, the unanimous choice at the No. 1 spot in the Class 2 Missouri Media rankings this week, defeated Helias 61-35 last year in St. Louis.

"That was a tough road loss," Hentges said. "For us to give up that many points was something we did not enjoy doing. Lessons learned, their speed was just too much."

The game was a bit of a coming out party for Lions quarterback Mehki Hagens, who completed 16-of-22 passes for 458 yards and seven touchdowns in addition to running 31 yards for a score against the Crusaders.

Hagens, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound senior, is ranked among the top college prospects in Missouri. He has received offers from several schools, including Missouri, Indiana, Purdue, Syracuse and Kansas.

The seven touchdown passes were for an average of 44 yards. The Crusaders know they can ill afford to allow something like that to happen again Saturday night.

"We can't let them rattle off long plays against us," Hentges said. "We need to keep them having to chip away to get down the field."

Hagens is 63-of-85 for 840 yards and 12 touchdowns with no interceptions this season.

Luther Burden III is Hagen's top target. The 6-1 sophomore, who is already receiving Division I interest, has 20 receptions for 371 yards and seven touchdowns. Keavion Long, a 5-8 junior, is next with 17 catches for 225 yards and a score.

"You can scheme good things defensively, but what concerns you is their speed in space," Hentges said. "A missed tackle can result in an 80-yard touchdown."

The Lions, who are averaging a little more than 40 points per game this season, are led in rushing by Bill Jackson. The 5-8, 170-pound junior has 266 yards (8.3 avg.) and a touchdown on the ground.

Defensively, Cardinal Ritter is giving up an average of 16 points per game.

Dorian Stone, a 5-11, 200-pound linebacker, tops the Lions with 22 total tackles. Joe Moore (6-3, 260, sr. ) has 16 tackles and three sacks from his defensive end position.

Cardinal Ritter has six sacks and three interceptions this season.

"We can't sit in just one or two formations against them," Hentges said. "They're too big and too fast for that, we're going to have to mix things up."

Helias is coming off of an impressive 41-28 win last Friday night against Vianney in St. Louis.

"We made a few more plays than they did, that's what it came down to," Hentges said. "We played well in all three phases of the game to get a really good road win."

The Helias run game was particularly strong against Vianney, picking up 269 yards on 38 carries (7.1 avg.).

"Any time you have a back go for that much, you have a very good chance to win," Hentges said.

Alex Clement led the way with 163 yards on 21 carries behind a good effort up front by the Crusaders offensive line.

"We practiced four or five run plays all week, that's all we did," Hentges said. "We just asked the line to get a hat on a hat and execute a simple run game and that's what we did.

"Our young offensive line grew up a little bit by having success against a big, physical front."

Led by the strong run game, Helias totaled 25 first downs to control the ball and keep the Vianney offense off the field.

"To beat a very good football team on the road was a step forward for us," Hentges said.

There's an even more talented team coming Saturday night to the Crusader Athletic Complex.

"We need to make that next step," Hentges said. "We want to see how 4-0 feels."

Notes: Helias, off to its first 3-0 start since the 2014 season, entered the Class 4 rankings at No. 10 this week. "I know it's coach-speak, but it's where you finish that really matters," Hentges said. "But it's nice to have that state recognition." ... Cardinal Ritter finished 13-1 last season, falling 45-19 to Trinity Catholic in the Class 2 state championship game at Faurot Field. The Lions are ranked No. 4 among small schools in the nation this week by MaxPreps. The Lions have defeated Nazareth Academy (Ill.) 32-21, Lutheran North (27-13) and St. Dominic (53-14) this season. Hentges doesn't think Homecoming will be a distraction for the Crusaders. "The focus for us the football game," he said. "Our job is to play as good as we can Saturday night." Helias senior defensive end Caleb Justice had three sacks against Vianney. "I know in practice, we have a problem blocking him," Hentges said. "He's popping this year." Justice has 5.5 sacks through three games. The Helias defense is allowing opponents just 3.3 yards per rush and 4.3 yards per play through three games ... Hentges said Helias senior running back Brody Mays, injured in practice last week, will return to the team before the end of the regular season. After Saturday night, Helias will play three straight games on the road, starting next Friday at Borgia. The Crusaders' final home game of the regular season is Friday, Oct. 18, against Rock Bridge. Helias is second the Class 4 District 5 standings with 56.33 points. Lebanon (3-0) is first with 59.67, with Camdenton third with 53.

Related Media

Helias Crusaders Football Podcast [Cardinal Ritter preview, Sept. 21, 2019]

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