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story.lead_photo.caption Helias defensive end Damon Johanns sacks Lutheran: St. Charles quarterback Aaron Coffey as Helias linebacker Ethan Holzhauser comes in to finish off the tackle during Friday night's game at Ray Hentges Stadium. Photo by Jason Strickland / News Tribune.

The Helias Crusaders treated it just like a regular week.

Sure, they had their game scheduled for Friday night at Hannibal canceled due to COVID-19 concerns. And they weren't sure if, or who, they were going to play until Tuesday, when a game with Lutheran: St. Charles was scheduled for Ray Hentges Stadium.

But the short week was a successful one for the Crusaders.

"They were ready to play like they are in any opener," Helias coach Chris Hentges said Friday night after the Crusaders held off the Cougars 31-20. "By Tuesday, we just looked at is as a regular day during game week and got to work."

The quality of the game turned out to be very high for the first week of the season.

"I think both coaching staffs should be commended for putting together a plan that had this game in doubt late into the fourth quarter," Hentges said. "It was a game with two talented football teams that hopefully both will have long and successful seasons."

The Crusader defense was up to the challenge Friday night.

Lutheran: St. Charles opened the game with a 16-play drive, driving inside the Helias 10 before turning it over on downs. The Cougars' second drive, totaling nine plays, also got inside the Crusader 10 before Helias turned them away without a score.

Helias' drive between the Lutheran: St. Charles' pair resulted in a score. Three strong runs by Ryan Klahr and a 44-yard pass from Jake Weaver to Damon Johanns keyed the six-play, 94-yard drive, capped by a 1-yard plunge by Weaver.

Isaac Lopez booted the extra point and Helias led 7-0.

A special teams miscue on Helias' next drive led to Lutheran: St. Charles' first score. A high snap resulted in a bobble, then a blocked punt that Jayshawn Richmond scooped up and took 20 yards to the end zone. The 2-point conversion try failed and it was 7-6.

On the ensuing drive, Helias got to the Lutheran: St. Charles 6 before turning the ball over on downs.

"We had a chance to stretch our lead, take control of this game and we couldn't do it," Hentges said. "We missed some opportunities in the first half."

The Crusaders stopped the Cougars on downs for the third time in the first half with a little less than two minutes to go before halftime. Helias needed six plays to find the end zone, with the score coming on a 16-yard pass from Weaver to Johanns with :06.9 left. Lopez's boot made it 14-6 at intermission.

Helias took advantage of a special teams mistake early in the third quarter when Gage Wilde recovered a fumbled punt at the Cougar 20. Alex Clement scored on the next play and Lopez's kick made it 21-6.

The Helias defense stopped Lutheran: St. Charles for the fourth time on the Cougars' first drive of the second half.

"Our defense played very, very well," Hentges said.

But the Cougars were able to find the end zone on their next drive. A 71-yard pass got the Cougars deep into Crusader territory before Aaron Coffey connected with Aiden McLean from 9 yards out. The 2-point run was good and it was 21-14.

Lopez booted a 29-yard field goal late in the third quarter to push Helias' lead back to double digits at 24-14.

"He stepped up to the moment," Hentges said.

Lopez, who converted on all four of his PATs, handled the kicking duties after a pair of Crusaders were unavailable to play Friday night.

"Isaac is such a clutch performer, no matter what you ask him to do," Hentges said. "He's a great linebacker, he's a great fullback, he's been a good, good football player for us for a long time."

The Cougars closed the gap to 24-20 early in the fourth quarter on a 46-yard pass from Coffey to Cameron Hart.

The Helias defense made big stands on the remainding Lutheran: St. Charles possessions.

A combined sack by Dylan Kopp and Drew Distler helped force the Cougars' first punt of the game midway through the fourth quarter. Then combined sacks by Johanns and Holzhauser, followed by one by Lopez and Parker Wideman, halted the next Cougar possession.

"Our defensive line and linebackers were getting after them," Hentges said.

Helias punted the ball back to Lutheran: St. Charles on its next possession that Wilde tipped back onto the field before the ball hit the end zone to force the Cougars to start at their own 1.

After a short punt, Helias got a 23-yard run from Weaver, then runs of 4 and 6 yards from Clement, the last one for a game-clinching touchdown.

"That was good to get that touchdown," Hentges said.

The Cougars had just 20 yards on 33 carries Friday night. Arlen Harris Jr., a four-star college prospect as a junior, finished with just 26 yards on 22 attempts.

"He's talented and we did a great job against him," Hentges said.

Helias (1-0) is scheduled to go this Friday to Hickman in the Central Missouri Activities Conference debut for both teams. In media rankings released Friday, the Crusaders were picked as the favorite to win the first CMAC football championship.

Game time is 7 p.m.

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