Helias going back to title game after dropping Liberty North

Helias running back Garret Buschjost (15) scores the game-clinching touchdown midway through the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Class 4 semifinal game with Liberty North at Adkins Stadium.

Helias running back Garret Buschjost (15) scores the game-clinching touchdown midway through the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Class 4 semifinal game with Liberty North at Adkins Stadium. Katie Alaimo/News Tribune

Trent Dudenhoeffer was at the right place at the right time twice Saturday.

So the next time he and his Helias teammates will hit the field, it will be in the Class 4 state championship game.

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The News Tribune's Tom Rackers covered Saturday's Helias game. Follow @tjrackers on Twitter for updates during games.

Dudenhoeffer scored a touchdown on offense and defense Saturday as Helias defeated Liberty North 26-14 in the semifinals at Adkins Stadium. With the win, the Crusaders (12-2, ranked No. 3) advance to Friday’s title game against three-time defending champion Webb City (13-1, ranked No. 1).

“I’m so proud of this team, these guys, these coaches, this program,” Helias head coach Phil Pitts said. “A lot of people expected us to get to this point and it’s so hard to do, especially when it is expected of you.

“We just kept working, kept getting better. I’m the luckiest man in the world to be the head football coach of this program.”

Trailing 7-0 early in the second quarter, the Crusaders were faced with a second-and-10 at the Eagle 22.

Helias quarterback Wyatt Porter threw a pass intended for Michael Tannehill at around the 5-yard line. It bounced off Tannehill’s hands, then off the hands of a Liberty North defender, then into the waiting arms of Dudenhoeffer in the end zone for a touchdown.

“To sum it up in one phrase, right place at the right time,” Dudenhoeffer said. “I didn’t really put the pieces together, I just put my arms out and it came to me.”

Tannehill didn’t realize Dudenhoeffer was behind him.

“I just thought ‘That guy better not intercept it,’” Tannehill said. “If that turned out to be an interception, that was going to be all on me.”

Pitts wouldn’t have put the blame on Tannehill.

“We felt Michael may have gotten held a little bit, but it worked out because he couldn’t catch it clean and Trent was there,” he said. “Every once in a while, things can bounce your way and we took advantage of it.”

J.C. Szumigala booted the extra point to tie the game at 7.

Later in the quarter, it was Tannehill’s time to shine.

After a short punt, Helias took over at the Liberty North 48 with 1:18 to go before halftime.

Porter hit Garrett Buschjost for 11 yards, then Ryan Tannehill for 22 more. After a 9-yard pass to Buschjost, Porter and Michael Tannehill hooked up for a 6-yard score with :31.8 left on the clock.

“I helped Trent get one, I figured I’d get mine,” Tannehill said with a smile.

Szumigala’s PAT made it 14-7 at intermission.

“That was a big deal, it gave us momentum heading into the second half,” Pitts said.

Porter finished the half 12-of-13 through the air for 203 yards.

“They were giving us things in the pass game and Wyatt threw it well in the half,” Pitts said.

On the other side, the Helias defense held Liberty North to 47 yards in the first two quarters.

“I think we were pretty physical with them,” Tannehill, a starting middle linebacker, said.

Liberty North got the ball first to start the second half. The Eagles moved it out to their own 44 when Liberty North receiver Paul Silvio eluded a strong rush on an end-around and threw the ball down the field.

But it didn’t end up in a receiver’s hands. Instead, Dudenhoeffer picked it off and returned it 72 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown.

“It’s always been my dream in high school to get a pick-six and I finally got one,” Dudenhoeffer, a senior cornerback, said.

There was strong blocking all over the field, with Todd Buschjost putting a key block on Sharp around the 20 to free Dudenhoeffer for the score.

“It’s a blur, I know everyone was blocking, but Todd’s is the only one I remember,” Dudenhoeffer said.

Pitts was happy the Crusaders didn’t get the sack on Sharp.

“I have never been so happy about a missed tackle in all my life,” Pitts said. “We should have had him in the backfield, but Trent is a heck of a football player and that was a great play that our football team neeeded.”

The PAT missed and it was 20-7 less than a minute into the third quarter.

The Eagles responded on the ensuing drive, going 55 yards in six plays, with the score coming on a 6-yard pass from Sharp to Michael Hughes on a fourth-and-5 play to make it 20-14.

“They have good football players and good football teams answer,” Pitts said.

An interception early in the fourth quarter by Todd Buschjost deep in Crusader territory set up Helias’ final score.

Buschjost returned the ball to the Helias 30. A pair of Buschjost runs got Helias near midfield, then Porter hit Hale Hentges with an 11-yard pass to get the Crusaders into Eagle territory. One play later, Garrett Buschjost broke through the line, broke a tackle and was gone for a 37-yard touchdown and a 26-14 Helias lead with 7:49 left in the game.

“After I busted that one off, I knew it was ours,” Buschjost said. “Mike (Tannehill) and Tryston (Bax) got good seal blocks and it was wide-open.”

It was the best run of the day for Buschjost, who finished with 103 yards on 21 carries despite being held to three yards or less on 14 of his attempts.

“I just kept pushing,” he said.

The Helias defense stopped Liberty North on downs on its final two possessions to seal the victory.

The Eagles, who got the game’s first score on an 8-yard run by Nick Hess late in the first quarter, were held to 67 yards on 30 carries Saturday.

“I think they realized how good our run defense was and they went to their talented passing game,” Pitts said.

Liberty North did most of its yardage damage through the air, with Sharp completing 19-of-36 passes for 203 yards. Silvio had nine catches for 183 yards.

“Watching film they were a power-run team,” Dudenhoeffer said. “But it was great for them to challenge us. Myself, Nick Haslag, John Rhea, we’re an elite group of cornerbacks and it’s fun to be out there.”

Helias and Webb City will meet for the title at 1 p.m. Friday in a rematch of the 2012 championship game at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. The Cardinals defeated the Crusaders 49-14 last year.

See also:

Missouri high school football playoffs for Nov. 23, 2013

Well-rounded Lawson squad ends Blair Oaks’ season

Pintos push Spoofhounds before falling

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