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story.lead_photo.caption Helias defensive end Sam Schell and Warrensburg quarterback Eli Nappe tumble to the ground after Schell tackled Nappe during last Friday night's Class 4 District 6 championship game at Ray Hentges Stadium. Photo by Liv Paggiarino / News Tribune.

You couldn't help but peek.

When the Missouri State High School Activities Association released the football district assignments in late September, the Helias Crusaders were off to a 5-0 start to the season. So if Helias was to win a district championship, who would the Crusaders face the Class 4 quarterfinals?

One team jumped out, the West Plains Zizzers.

Nearly two months later, that matchup is tonight as the Crusaders (11-0) host the Zizzers (10-1) at Ray Hentges Stadium.

"They've been playing some great football, even looking back for the past few years," Helias coach Chris Hentges said.

The Crusaders have been No. 1 in the Missouri Media Rankings since the poll started after Week 4. The Zizzers were No. 2 until falling to Bolivar in the final week of the regular season. West Plains ended the regular season in a tie for the No. 5 spot.

"Their DNA is a tough, physical, downhill football team on both sides of ball," Hentges said.

On offense, the Zizzers are averaging 327 yards per game on the ground.

"We are going to need to read our keys and fill the gaps," Hentges said. "They're big up front and it will be a challenge for us."

Titus Seley (5-foot-10, 200 sr.) tops West Plains with 1,866 yards rushing (8.7 avg.) and 25 touchdowns. He had 27 carries for 134 yards and three scores in last Friday night's 41-26 win against Carl Junction in the District 5 title game.

Hentges said Seley reminds him of Rock Bridge running back Bryce Jackson.

"He's got good balance, he stays on his feet," Hentges said. "He's just a hard-nosed runner."

Connor Lair (6-1, 225 jr.) has added 654 yards (12.5 avg.) and seven scores.

West Plains quarterback Dagen Kenslow (6-2, 190 jr.) is a dual threat behind center in a Zizzer offense that is averaging 43.5 points per game. He is 68-of-130 passing for 1,255 yards and 11 touchdowns to go along with six interceptions.

"A lot of the passes come off play-action," Hentges said. "But we have to be ready for some bubble or quick screens. We can't overplay the run or they will come at you and hurt you with a screen.

"And he does throw the deep ball well."

On the ground, Kenslow has run for 983 yards (6.6 avg.) and 15 touchdowns.

"He can break it if you're not careful," Hentges said.

Heston Miller (6-2, 185 soph.) tops the Zizzers with 20 receptions, good for 358 yards and four touchdowns. Seley has 16 catches for a team-high 406 yards and three scores, while Lair has 12 receptions for 251 yards and three touchdowns.

Helias has allowed just less than 1,300 yards (3.3 avg,) rushing this season.

"They are going to run at you most of the time and you have to find a way to stop them," Hentges said. "The defense is excited about the challenge, the matchup with a run-oriented football team. It's their strength against our strength and we'll see who gets the best of it."

Defensively, the Zizzers run mostly out of a 4-3 front.

"It's something similar to our base defense, so we're familiar with it as an offense," Hentges said.

And just like the Crusaders, the Zizzers' leading tacklers are linebackers. Lair tops the team with 117 tackles, including 10.5 for loss, to go along with three interceptions. Seley has 107 stops, with 5.5 for loss.

"They play downhill, they are right up on the line of scrimmage," Hentges said. "It will be a challenge for us to run against that front."

The Zizzers have 24 sacks as a team this season.

"Our protection will be a key," Hentges said. "We have to slow down their pass rush, which is very good."

Turnovers were key for West Plains in its win against Carl Junction as the Zizzers totaled four interceptions.

Helias also had four interceptions in its District 6 title win last Friday, a 49-14 decision against Warrensburg.

"Our defense got us the ball back, our offense took advantage of the short fields," Hentges said. "We took control of the game from the start."

Helias scored touchdowns on all of its seven first-half possessions.

"We played really well," Hentges said. "We were physical on defense, we executed well on offense."

It was an effort worthy of a district championship.

"We are playing the way we want to play this time of the year," Hentges said. "After 12 weeks, you should be sharp."

Game time is 7 p.m.

Notes: This will be Helias' ninth home game of the season. Helias traveled to Columbia to face Hickman in Week 2, then had trips down Stadium Boulevard in Weeks 6 and 7 to face Capital City and Jefferson City for its only road games. "We'll never have a year like this again," Hentges said. West Plains' lone loss was a 42-21 decision to Bolivar. The game was tied at 21 entering the fourth quarter before the Liberators pulled away for the victory. West Plains won its last district title in 2018. The Zizzers finished 12-1 that season, losing to eventual state champion Ladue in the quarterfinals. With a win tonight, the Crusaders could not host the semifinals next Saturday. They would travel to face the winner of the quarterfinal between Smithville (9-2), tied for fifth with West Plains in the final regular-season rankings, and Grandview (6-5). Smithville defeated Grandview 27-12 in Week 6 of the regular season. The playing status of senior starting offensive and defensive lineman Dylan Kopp will be a game-time decision. Kopp injured his ankle during the second quarter of last Friday night's win against Warrensburg. If he is unable to play, Hayden Payne will start on offense and the Crusasders will play a man short in their defensive line rotation.

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