Winning a district football title may seem to be old hat for the Helias Crusaders.
But it's still something to celebrate, even it is No. 7 in a row.
"It's an expectation around here and I don't want to lessen that," Helias coach Phil Pitts said Monday night after the Crusaders topped the Hannibal Pirates 42-7 to claim the Class 4 District 6 title at Adkins Stadium. "To win seven straight, to call yourself a district champion, that's a big deal, the kids can always be proud of that.
"But we have higher goals than that."
With Monday night's win, Helias (10-2, ranked No. 3) advances to Saturday afternoon's quarterfinal at District 5 champion St. Charles West (10-2, unranked). The Warriors rolled to a 62-28 victory Monday night against University City in their district title game.
"Any time you are playing a district champion, you will be facing a team with a lot of confidence," Pitts said. "St. Charles West has done a great job of taking care of what was in front of them, winning a district title.
"Now they're the thing in front of us."
For the Pirates (8-4), it's the fifth straight season they've been eliminated from the postseason in the round of 16.
"We got beat by a team better than us," Hannibal coach Mark St. Clair said. "They've proven that twice this year. That's not saying anything negative against our kids. Our kids have had a great year. We've gotten after it and put together eight wins in some tough circumstances."
The Pirates (8-4) placed the Crusaders in some tough circumstances early in Monday night's game.
Helias received the opening kickoff and went 84 yards in 12 plays. A 26-yard pass from Wyatt Porter to Ryan Tannehill keyed the drive, capped by a 2-yard run by Garrett Buschjost. The PAT was blocked and it was 6-0.
But not for long. Hannibal's Jerry McBride caught the ensuing kickoff at the Pirate 21 and returned it 79 yards for a touchdown. The extra point gave the Pirates a 7-6 lead.
"We didn't do a very good job of maintaining our lanes," Pitts said.
It looked like Helias was quickly going to respond. After a 71-yard pass from Porter to Todd Buschjost pushed the Crusaders deep into Pirate territory, Helias fumbled the ball away on the next play.
For a team that had been clicking on all cylinders recently, the trio of a blocked PAT, a kickoff return and a lost fumble was a little surprising.
But after forcing a Hannibal punt after the fumble, Helias scored on its next two possessions to take a double-digit lead.
"With the season potentially on the line, it was good to see how well we reacted to when things weren't going so well," Pitts said. "It will be a good thing for us in the long run because we handled it so well. We just kept doing our thing.
"We knew it was going to be a fight, we were expecting Hannibal was going to come at us hard and we had to handle that."
Helias took the lead for good in the final minute of the first quarter on a 30-yard pass from Porter to Hale Hentges. J.C. Szumigala booted the PAT to make it 13-7.
Garrett Buschjost then scored on a 40-yard run on Helias' next series and it was 20-7 at the half.
The Helias offense racked up 219 yards in the first half, while the Crusader defense limited the Pirates to 44 total yards and one first down on 22 plays.
"Since the Hickman game, our defense has absolutely been on point," Pitts said. "Tonight was as good as they've been. They swarmed to the football, they were physical, we did a great job of covering receivers.
"It was a lot of fun to watch."
With the 13-point deficit, the Pirates got the ball first in the second half. On the first play from scrimmage, Nick Haslag intercepted an Austin Kirby pass and Helias took over at its own 37.
"We talked at halftime about getting a three-and-out and they did better than that," Pitts said. "Nick did a great job of playing the ball in the air."
The Helias offense then went 63 yards in five plays, with Garrett Buschjost scoring from 24 yards out to make it 26-7.
The score moved to 28-7 a little more than a minute later when Hannibal snapped the ball out of the end zone on a punt attempt.
The Crusaders added two more touchdowns later in the third quarter on a 26-yard pass from Porter to Hentges and a 7-yard run by Porter.
Helias finished with a 461-95 edge in total yards.
"We just kept attacking and attacking," Pitts said. "We went out and executed a great game plan put together by our coaches."
It all starts with the play of the Crusader offensive and defensive lines.
"We have got very good offensive and defensive lines," Pitts said. "We rely on those guys up front and they do a heck of a job competing."
Saturday's game between Helias, which has won 21 consecutive district games, and St. Charles West is slated for a 1:30 p.m. start.