Editor's Note: Follow News Tribune sports writer @tjrackers on Twitter for updates on scoring during tonight's game.
The Helias Crusaders worked hard to gain the No. 1 seed in the district.
Tonight, it's time for that hard work to start paying off.
"This is what we do everything for and the kids are very excited." Helias coach Phil Pitts said as the Crusaders (7-2, ranked No. 3) host the Marshall Owls (2-7) in the District 6 opener at Adkins Stadium.
In earning the top seed, the Crusaders got the opportunity to host as many as three district games. But Pitts said the team isn't looking past today's 7 p.m. opener.
"The seniors know this could be the last time they do things." Pitts said. "They have to take everything seriously and all of our kids believe in that."
Helias has won its last five games, including a 36-10 victory last Friday at Hannibal. It was a complete effort for the Crusaders, who pulled away with four second-half touchdowns as the defense stymied the potent Pirate run game.
"Offensively, they never really stopped us, we stopped ourselves in the first half," Pitts said. "Defensively, our front seven was very physical, they got off their blocks and did a good job of stopping Hannibal."
The Crusaders held the Pirates to just 115 rushing yards. Stopping the Owls on the ground will be a key to tonight's game.
Marshall ran for nearly 400 yards last week against Boonville and the Crusaders fully expect to see the Owls concentrate on the ground game for two reasons. One, in an attempt to take time off the clock and two, keep the ball away from the Helias offense.
"We fully expect them to try to ground out yardage," Pitts said. "We've got to be ready for it, be physical and at least slow down what they're trying to do. It's going to be a challenge.
"Anytime a team can run the football, it can have success in the playoffs."
Devin Cott leads the Marshall ground game with 787 yards (4.9 avg.) and eight touchdowns.
"He looks to find a crease and then he hits it," Pitts said. "He's explosive when he gets through that crease."
With their concentration on the ground game, the Owls don't throw the ball much. Marshall has thrown for one touchdown to go along with 13 interceptions this season.
"If we can get them into second and long, third and long, I like our chances," Pitts said. "They aren't a team that likes to or wants to throw the football."
Defensively, the Owls are giving up a little more than 36 points a contest.
"Their kids play very hard and they never quit," Pitts said. "This could be a win they can hang their hat on."
The Crusaders will look to continue to work on the lessons they've learned during the first nine weeks of the season.
"We've learned to play for four quarters and we've learned to play with some adversity," Pitts said. "We knew we were a talented football team, but we had to take a couple of lumps to learn those lessons."
Notes: Any child in costume attending the game will be given candy at the gates starting at 6 p.m. ... Pitts said the Crusaders will be at full strength tonight. ... Helias and Marshall have one common opponent in Hannibal. The Owls, who were 1-5 in the North Central Missouri Conference this season, lost the Pirates 42-6 in Week 8. ... With a win, Helias would host the Kirksville-Mexico winner in the district semifinals at 7 p.m. Wednesday. ... The District 6 winner will play at the District 5 winner in the quarterfinals. St. Charles West (7-2) is the No. 1 seed in District 5, followed by Clayton (4-5), MICDS (4-5) and St. Charles (3-5).