Helias, Hannibal meet once more, this time with district title on line

The Helias Crusaders celebrate after a big play just before halftime of their game against Marshall in the first round of districts at Adkins Stadium. Helias will host Hannibal tonight in the district championship game.

The Helias Crusaders celebrate after a big play just before halftime of their game against Marshall in the first round of districts at Adkins Stadium. Helias will host Hannibal tonight in the district championship game. Photo by News Tribune.

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Helias Week 12 Podcast

In this case, familiarity breeds respect.

For the fourth time in two seasons, it’s Helias vs. Hannibal.

“This is why I believe Hannibal is our rival game,” Helias coach Phil Pitts said as the Crusaders (9-2, ranked No 3 in Class 4) host the Pirates (8-3) in a 7 p.m. contest today at Adkins Stadium. “A lot of people may think it’s Rock Bridge, but when we play Hannibal, it always seems like there’s something on the line.”

When the two teams met Oct. 25 in Hannibal, the Crusaders wrapped up the No. 1 seed in Class 4 District 6 with a 36-10 victory against the Pirates.

Tonight, the Crusaders and third-seeded Pirates meet for the district crown.

Hannibal can take positive things from the first half of the first meeting. The Pirates wanted to control the ball and the clock and they did both in the first two quarters and trailed just 10-3 at the half.

The 10 points was the second-fewest scored in a first half this season by the Crusaders. The lowest was a scoreless effort against C.B.C.

“They played very well in that first half, but I told the boys to remember we were still winning on the scoreboard,” Pitts said.

Helias got things on track in the third quarter as Garrett Buschjost ran for three touchdowns as the Crusaders began to pull away.

“We started finishing our drives, that’s all it was,” Pitts said.

Defensively, the Crusaders held the run-oriented Pirates to just 115 yards on the ground. Mitch Nichols, who is averaging 139 yards rushing per game and is the first Hannibal running back since Wentric Williams (2001) to eclipse the 1,500-yard mark in a season, had 91 against Helias.

“We know Nichols is going to get his carries, we just need to do a good job of containing him,” Pitts said.

The Pirates have the full attention of the Crusaders.

“If this had been another team, I might be concerned about our focus,” Pitts said. “But this is Hannibal and we know how good Hannibal is and can be.”

Hannibal advanced to tonight’s game with a 35-0 win against previously undefeated Moberly in last Wednesday’s district semifinal. Nichols had 168 yards on 32 carries in the game, while Wyatt King added 102 and scored three touchdowns.

Pitts expects to see a run-heavy attack from the Pirates tonight.

“We know generally what they like to do, they know generally what we like to do,” he said. “I don’t think they’re doing anything different other than playing with a lot more confidence, which in high-school football is a big deal.”

In last year’s district title game, Helias scored in the final minute to post a 14-10 victory at Hannibal just two weeks after the Crusaders were 31-18 winners against the Pirates at Adkins Stadium in the regular-season finale.

“They made great adjustments last time and I’m sure they’re going to be tough again (tonight),” Pitts said. “I know they’d like to do the same thing to us this year.”

Notes: The Crusaders are bidding for a seventh straight district title. Helias has won 20 straight district games in its run of six consecutive championships ... The Helias-Hannibal winner will face St. Charles West or University City in the quarterfinals Saturday afternoon. Because it would have hosted all three district games, Helias would be on the road against either District 5 opponent. Hannibal would host St. Charles West or play at University City. ... Helias starting senior linebacker Pat Ward will play tonight after suffering a leg injury in last Wednesday’s district semifinal victory against Kirksville. Pitts said the Crusaders will be at full strength. ... Helias, which has won its two district games by a combined score of 148-14, is on a seven-game winning streak.

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