The Helias Crusaders and Liberty North Eagles have taken similiar roads to the same desitination - the Class 4 football semifinals.
"They schedule really hard in the regular season, they face some adversity in the regular season to learn what they can and what they can't do and fix it," Helias coach Phil Pitts said as the Crusaders (11-2, ranked No. 3) prepare to host the unranked Eagles (9-4) at 1:30 p.m. today at Adkins Stadium.
"They're a lot like we are in that regard."
The Crusaders have losses to Class 4 state-ranked Harrisonville and Class 6 Hickman. The Eagles' four losses are to Class 5 schools, incuding a one-point decision to semifinalist Kearney.
"Losing games in the regular season can really help you because it shows you what you need to improve on," Pitts said. "A team at 9-4 can be a little more dangerous than a team that's 13-0 because they've been through the battles, they've fought through the adversity.
"We know Liberty North is a formidable opponent and we're going to have to play really well to win."
The Eagles, the District 8 champion, are peaking at the right time. Liberty North hasn't allowed a point in its last six quarters, including a 35-0 quarterfinal victory against No. 2 and prevously unbeaten Bolivar last Saturday.
"They dominated that game," Pitts said. "It was only 7-0 at the half, but they dominated the second half by imposing their will in the last two quarters. I think they're hitting their stride, playing as well as they can right now."
Pitts said Liberty North's surge has come because of the Eagles' play up front.
"In the playoffs, they've tried to pound people at the line of scrimmage and impose their will on their opponents," he said.
A good example is the Bolivar game where Liberty North running back Marvin Shumate (5-11, 155 sr.) ran for a career-high 209 yards to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark for the season..
"He's a strong, physical runner that can break a lot of tackles," Pitts said.
Shumate is often joined in a two-back set by Jaylend Simmons (5-7, 200 sr.), who is averaging 7.7 yards per carry.
"He's a little quicker than Shumate and we have to be ready for that," Pitts said.
Liberty North quarterback Brian Sharp (6-2, 190 jr.) has thrown for 1,813 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. His favorite target is wide receiver Paul Silvio (6-0, 190 sr.), who has 61 catches for 981 yards and nine touchdowns.
"They want to get him the football," Pitts said. "They haven't thrown it much the past couple of weeks, but we know the passing game is still there and we have to be ready for it."
The Eagles operate behind a big offensive line.
"When you play teams like Hickman and Rock Bridge and C.B.C., we've seen offensive lines that look the part just like Liberty North," Pitts said. "We have to be ready for another very good offensive line."
Liberty North is totaling 365 total yards and 27 points per game, Defensively, Helias is allowing just under 225 total yards and 14 points per game.
"We're going to have to makre sure we're on point on defense, they are very capable of hitting us with the run or the pass," PItts said.
The Crusaders will look to continue their fine offensive season that has seen the team average 47 points and more than 5,600 yards - 2,865 rushing and 2,746 passing.
"Our offense is at its best when we're 50-50," Pitts said. "When you get to this time of the year, you want to stick with what brought you and being balanced did that."
Defensively, the Eagles operate out of a 4-3 front.
"They have a group of very good players who do a good job of getting off blocks and getting to the football," Pitts said. "We have to be ready to match how physical they can be."
Liberty North, which has four shutouts this season, is led in tackles by linebacker Simmons with 95 total stops. He also has 14 tackles for loss, along with lineman Stephen Lehnardt (6-2, 185 jr.).
"They don't do anything flashy," Pitts said. "They just line up and hit you, they don't allow you to get your speed going."
The Eagles have intercepted 26 passes this season, with cornerbacks KiAndre Pugh and Austin Card getting eight each.
"They really fly to the football," Pitts said.
One possible factor in Helias' favor is postseason experience. This is the fourth semifinal game in six seasons for Helias, while it's the first such appearance for Liberty North in its four years of existence.
"I don't know if it means that much, but I'd rather be in our shoes than theirs," Pitts said. "The stage won't be too big for our kids, they should know how to handle it. It will be a challege, there's no doubt about that, but we've been through this before and that helps."
The teams have no common opponents. Pitts said of Helias' opponents this season, Liberty North reminds him of Hickman, which handed Helias its last loss, a 27-17 decision Sept. 20.
"We don't get to play Hickman again, but we get to play a team like Hickman," Pitts said. "It's a chance for a little redemption maybe for what was our lowest point of the season."
Today's winner will face either three-time defending state champion Webb City (12-1) or Cape Girardeau Central (9-4) in the championship game at 1 p.m. Friday at the Edward Jones Dome.
Notes: Helias will be at full strength today, Pitts said. ... Liberty North, a member of the Suburban Blue Conference, has 118 players on its roster. It is expected the Eagles will move to Class 5 in the next two-year cycle. ... Helias senior linebacker Michael Tannehill finished with 19 total tackles in last Saturday's 44-21 quarterfinal victory at St. Charles West. ... The Crusaders have won their last five semifinal appearances and are 7-1 all-time in this round of the playoffs. The only semifinal loss was at Jackson in 1994.