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story.lead_photo.caption Helias players watch a preseason scrimmage from the sideline last month at Ray Hentges Stadium. Photo by Liv Paggiarino / California Democrat.

It's been TDT so far this season for the Helias run defense.

"Take on the block, defeat the block, tackle the ball carrier," Helias coach Chris Hentges said.

So far, so good as the Crusaders have held their first two opponents to just 23 yards on 58 carries (0.4 avg.).

But tonight at Ray Hentges Stadium, the Battle Spartans (2-0, 1-0 Central Missouri Activities Conference) will present a challenge unlike any Helias (2-0, 1-0) might face this season.

"When you face teams like this, you know you're not going to blank them in the running game, you're just trying to minimize their big plays because they are a big-play team," Chris Hentges said. "You can't allow 90-yard touchdown runs, you have to make them earn every yard. You know they will have some big plays, but we have to make sure we keep the 10-yard runs to 10-yard runs and not let them go for 50.

"Live to play another down."

Battle has run for 681 yards in wins against Fort Zumwalt North and Capital City, averaging just under 9.6 yards per carry.

Gerry Marteen (5-foot-9, 170 jr.) has run for 291 yards (10.8 avg.) and six touchdowns. Rickie Dunn (5-11, 220 soph.) has picked up 268 yards (14.9 avg.) with four scores.

"They are both very talented backs," Hentges said. "(Marteen) is more of a speed back, (Dunn) is a powerful runner."

A key third cog in the run game is senior quarterback Khaleel Dampier (5-9, 160), who ran for 97 yards against Fort Zumwalt North.

Dampier is 10-of-15 passing for 228 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Tommy Atherton (5-11, 170 sr.) has five of Battle's receptions for 92 yards. Manny Chiteri (6-2, 185 sr.) has three catches for 121 yards and a touchdown.

"They have explosive athletes, we're going to have our hands full," Hentges said. "We know what we have in front of us this week. But we feel we have a good game plan against their offense, now we just have to execute it."

The defensive line, featuring a rotation of players who also play on the offensive line, has played a big part in stopping the run this season for the Crusaders.

"We're staying square to the line of scrimmage," Hentges said. "We're not getting our shoulders turned, we're not getting too deep into the offensive backfield.

"That keeps the holes from getting too big and then you're asking a linebacker to fill a gap that's six or seven feet wide. It all starts up front with the big guys."

Dylan Kopp tops the Helias linemen with nine total tackles, while Jacob Watson has six stops. And while those numbers might not seem to be that impressive, the play up front has allowed Helias linebackers Isaac Lopez and Ethan Holzhauser to rack up a total of 26 tackles.

"Our linebackers are among the best in the state and when they can scrape and make tackles, it makes our defense so much better," Hentges said. "They are both smart, they understand the defensive scheme and philosophy. And they are both great tacklers, they very rarely miss."

The Helias offense is coming off a 68-point performance in a win last Friday at Hickman. That came after scoring 31 in the opener against Lutheran: St. Charles.

"In Week 1, we left some points on the board, we should have scored three or four more touchdowns," Hentges said. "We've got an explosive offense and it was nice to see that on display against Hickman."

Helias will try to move the ball against a 4-2-5 Battle defense.

"They will keep six guys in the box who will defend the run well and the five guys in the back end will try to lock down the receivers," Hentges said.

The front six are a stout group for the Spartans' defense.

"They are very skilled up front, we're going to have to try to find our way in the run game," Hentges said. "This is not a team that we're going to run for 200 yards against, it just won't happen. But we need to be effective enough to move the ball and run some clock with the run game."

The Crusaders will have to be alert on special teams as well tonight. The Spartans have returned two kicks for touchdowns this season.

"We're still trying to get our legs under us in the kicking game," Hentges said. "We've had a luxury in the past few years, the best scheme we had with Vito (Calvaruso) against a good returner was for him to just kick it into the end zone.

"We need to make sure we put the ball in a place where their returners can't bust one open."

Game time is 7 p.m.

Notes: The Crusaders and Spartans renew their series tonight after a two-year hiatus due to schedule unavailability. Battle leads the all-time series 3-1 against Helias. The Crusaders' win was a 29-14 victory in 2014, the year the Spartans won the Class 5 state championship. Helias and Battle were picked to finish 1-2, respectively, in the CMAC preseason media poll. Helias did not punt against Hickman. "That's usually a good night for your offense," Hentges said. Quinton Baker and Trey Bexten figure to see more time on offense at tight end tonight for the Crusaders, Hentges said. This is the first of a three-game homestand for Helias, who will face Borgia in a non-conference contest next Friday before taking on Rock Bridge on Sept. 25.

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