Once again, the Capital City Cavaliers are set to play the biggest game in program history.
The Cavaliers (8-3) are set to face a rematch against the Helias Crusaders (10-1) in Capital City’s first district championship game in the four-year history of the program.
“We’re trending toward the right direction,” Capital City coach Joe Collier said. “The things that we’re doing in the offseason, in the season, the corrections and tweaks we’re trying to make during games during the season, this is the path we should be on.”
Third-seeded Capital City is coming a win in the previous biggest game in program history, a 38-35 win against second-seeded Camdenton in the Class 5 District 5 semifinals. The Cavaliers jumped out to a big lead, allowed the Lakers to get in front with less than two minutes left, then scored a game-winning touchdown with less than 10 seconds on the clock to earn the second playoff win in school history.
The Cavalier offense was led once again by Central Missouri Activities Conference player of the year Jaylen Thomas with 192 yards and four touchdowns, bringing him to 2,042 yards and 31 touchdowns on 198 carries in his sophomore season.
He was joined by an impressive performance by All-CMAC first-team halfback Phillip Richardson who had 133 total yards and a touchdown, as well as a 72-yard catch and run to set up Thomas for the game-winning score.
They ran behind an offensive line of All-CMAC first-teamer Marques Golliday and honorable mentions Reyce Turner and Andy Cubilla.
Richardson and running back/defensive back Nehemiah Hamilton were both inactive the first time the Cavaliers and Crusaders matched up, while Golliday left during the game, a 43-17 Crusader win.
“I think we’re a better team as far as certain areas,” Collier said of the difference coming into this matchup than the first game between the programs. “We were wondering if we were going to be able to hold up in the secondary and I think now that’s turned into a strength for us. … We still have our turnover woes, but I think if we are in any game, we’re going to be hyper focused on making sure we cover the ball and take care of the ball each possession this week.”
The Crusaders took an early lead, but the Cavaliers cut the advantage to one score and recovered a fumble to set up a drive for the lead late in the third quarter. Then the Cavaliers collapsed.
Capital City fumbled three times and gave up three touchdowns in less than two game minutes to put the Crusaders comfortably in front before the fourth quarter.
“We were on a path of doing some good things there,” Collier said. “Especially late in the third, most of the third quarter was going our way and then we had that matter of minutes, a minute.”
Capital City’s offense, averaging 36.3 points per game, will go against a Helias defense allowing only 11.6 per contest.
The Crusaders allowed six points combined in their final three regular season games, then had a first-round bye as the top seed in the district tournament before beating No. 4 Washington 38-28 last week.
The strong Crusader defense is led by CMAC defensive player of the year Logan Montoya, who has totaled 113 tackles, with nine going for loss and six sacks from his linebacker spot. First-team All-CMAC linebacker Maddox Fisher is second on the team with 83 stops and 12 for loss.
“He’s everywhere,” Collier said of Fisher. “And Montoya is in midseason form.”
Collier said because of the success Helias had in stopping the Cavalier rushing attack in the first matchup, most teams Capital City has played since the first matchup have tried to match the Crusaders’ scheme and setup. He said those extra reps against defenses trying to play similarly will help in the rematch.
“It’s kind of a copycat type of things,” Collier said. “Those teams saw success against us, but now we’ve been able to practice live reps against those things and I think we got a great recognition of what they’re trying to do. I think that helps us out a lot. … But of course, you’ve got to have the players and you’ve got to have the kids coached up the same way, things of that nature. It was good to see those fronts and be able to practice against those fronts.”
But on the other end is where Collier said he sees the biggest difference for the Crusaders since the last time the teams matched up.
In the initial contest, Austin Weaver made his first career start and had 16 completions on 22 attempts for 204 yards, coming on strong through the air in the second half and taking advantage of Cavalier mistakes at high efficiency.
“He’s only gotten better,” Collier said. “He was probably the best all-around athlete as a sophomore and now they have their best athlete at quarterback with a bunch of reps and him being successful. … He’s now a veteran and he’s moving with confidence so I think that alone, with them being just a tough team in general, is gonna be a nice challenge for us.”
Weaver has compiled 72 completions on 107 passes for 1,012 yards, nine touchdowns and five interceptions this season passing to a group of Crusader receivers.
Luke Swan leads the receiving corps with 20 catches for 267 yards and three touchdowns, while Sam Lopez has 19 receptions for 305 yards and three scores. Lucas Bloomer has totaled a team-high 392 yards and five touchdowns on 17 catches, while Alex Marberry has 212 yards and two scores on 17 receptions.
When the Crusaders go to the ground, it has been mostly Mason French with a team-high 808 yards and 12 touchdowns on 158 carries. Weaver has also been a rushing threat for Helias, totaling 333 yards and six touchdowns on 64 attempts.
That Helias offense is averaging 39.1 points per game after performances of 63, 42 and 38 in the past three games, respectively.
The Crusaders will face a Capital City defense allowing 25.8 points per game with two games allowing less than 10 in the past four games.
“I think we got their attention the first time we played, we are aware of each other,” Collier said. “Whatever they were calling then, that’s what they are going to call gearing towards our defense and our offense. I think if you’re winning the game, you’re not going to change anything too much. Just stay the course, they will probably add a wrinkle here and there, but that’s any team.”
The winner of tonight’s game will face the winner of the Class 5 District 6 championship between Lebanon and Republic next Friday. With a win, Capital City would host the quarterfinal contest.
Notes: The Cavalier defense is led in tackles by all-CMAC second-teamer Cohen Davis (79), while all-conference second-team linebacker Matt Wiegand has 65 for third on the team behind Brooks Horton with 66. Second-team defensive back Isaiah Franklin has 62 tackles, while Landen McNeil has 60. … Turner leads the team with 22.5 tackles for loss, while second-team All-CMAC defensive lineman Elijah Jahr has 16.5 for second ahead of Jaelin White with 15 for third. Horton has 14.5 and McNeil has 11.5. … McNeil leads the defense with five sacks, Jahr has 4.5, while White and Turner each have four. … Jaqures Richardson and Chase Atkinson each have two of the Cavaliers’ seven interceptions, while Dante McRoberts has two of the Cavaliers’ 10 fumble recoveries.