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story.lead_photo.caption Helias running back Alex Clement runs in for a touchdown as Jefferson City linebacker Will Berendzen wraps him up during last Friday night's game at Adkins Stadium. Photo by Jason Strickland / California Democrat.

They knew it was coming.

Emotions were high all last week as the Helias Crusaders prepared for the first-ever meeting with the Jefferson City Jays. And coming off the high of a 28-0 victory last Friday night at Adkins Stadium, there was only one way to go.

And they went there. For a day, anyway.

"They're 16-to 18 year-old kids, it happened exactly like we thought it was going to happen," Helias coach Chris Hentges said. "The practice on Tuesday was our worst practice of the year.

"And we let them know that."

After Friday night's win, the Crusaders got a rare Saturday off. They got together as a team Monday to wrap up the game before Tuesday's first real practice of the week.

Wednesday was better, much better.

"It's human nature to have a little bit of a letdown, as coaches, we tried like heck to not let it happen," Hentges said. "We pushed them through, our kids know they didn't practice like they needed to on Tuesday. But they responded.

"It's on to Sedalia, full steam ahead."

Helias will look to wrap up an undefeated Central Missouri Activities Conference season tonight when it hosts Sedalia Smith-Cotton at Ray Hentges Stadium.

Helias (7-0 overall, 5-0 CMAC) got a great defensive effort in shutting out Jefferson City. The Crusaders held the Jays to just 162 total yards, including three yards or less on 25 of their 35 rushing attempts.

That helped offset a five-turnover performance from the Helias offense.

"Five turnovers could spell disaster, but the way our defense played, it allowed us to stay in the ballgame and not have it be a one-possession game," Hentges said. "They continued to stand tall, to get us the ball back."

Helias had turned the ball over just five times in the first six games of the season.

"It was uncharacteristic of us this year and that was disappointing," Hentges said. "But hats off to our defense for standing like a wall and keeping us in the game and we were able to come out with a solid victory.

"That was a great win, but we have bigger goals. It didn't make our season, it was very important, but we have a district title and bigger plans down the road."

The next step down the road is tonight's game against Smith-Cotton. The Tigers (0-6, 0-4) have been battling COVID-19 problems at times throughout the season. Hentges has noticed on film that players are in the game one week, but not in others.

"From week to week, they've anywhere from 5-10 kids who have been out with COVID," Hentges said. "That's hurt their ability to have continuity and develop as a team."

But one thing Hentges has seen on all of the Tigers' films is their athletic ability.

"They've got some good athletes," he said.

The Tigers run a spread offense that is quite similar to the one employed by the Crusaders.

"Our defense should be pretty comfortable, because they see it all the time when they practice against our offense," Hentges said. "It's nothing new. It's not like preparing for Capital City, then Jefferson City the last two weeks."

The shuffling of the lineup may have something to do with the Tigers averaging just under 200 total yards and 8.8 points per game.

Smith-Cotton sophomore quarterback Lane Simmons is totaling just under 100 yards per game through the air. But it's his rushing ability that has impressed Hentges.

"He can really hurt you if you don't account for him," Hentges said.

Chase McMullin (5-foot-9, 170 pounds, sr.) is averaging 80 yards rushing per game and has scored two of the Tigers' four rushing touchdowns.

Connor Ladd (5-8, 130, soph.) leads the Tigers with nine catches. He had five of those catches for 109 yards in a Sept. 11 game against Warrensburg.

"They are very capable offensively," Hentges said.

Smith-Cotton uses a base 3-4 defense, shifting to a four-front in obvious run situations.

"They have hard-nosed kids," Hentges said. "When you look at their defense and their special teams, they have some kids that will flat-out bring the wood and hit you.

"They aren't backing down, they play a physical brand of football."

Game time is 7 p.m.

Notes: Helias will be without tight end Damon Johanns tonight after the senior injured his ankle in pregame last week. Johanns, who caught two passes against Jefferson City, is Helias' second-leading receiver this season. "He gutted it out and played, but he was hurting," Hentges said. His spot will be filled by combination of Quinton Baker, Sam Schell, Trey Bexten and Ethan Holzhauser. "We are deep at tight end," Hentges said. "We have five guys who can play tight end at the varsity level." Hentges expects Johanns to be ready for next Friday's regular-season finale against Cardinal Ritter, a game which was added to the schedule Wednesday. Helias may be without Tyler Sandbothe and Korbin Fisher, both special team standouts, as well due to injuries. It will be game-time decisions for both tonight. Smith-Cotton is coming off a 49-9 loss last Saturday at Battle. The Crusaders and the Tigers played a two-game series in the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Helias went 2-0, winning 35-6 and 56-15.

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