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story.lead_photo.caption A host of Helias defenders bring down Rickie Dunn of Battle during a game this season at Ray Hentges Stadium. Photo by Liv Paggiarino / News Tribune.

It doesn't figure to get any easier for the Helias Crusaders.

But with just four teams left, there's no reason to think it would.

"It's a very confident team that's playing its best football right now," Helias coach Chris Hentges said as the Crusaders (12-0) prepare to take on the Smithville Warriors (10-2) tonight in the Class 4 semifinals in Smithville.

"We know Smithville will be our toughest challenge we've faced the year. We're excited about the opportunity to play a quality opponent in the semifinals."

The Warriors, led by former Moberly coach Jason Ambroson, have put together quite the impressive run the last three weeks, winning their three postseason games by a combined score of 123-0.

"They've basically run their opponents off the field," Hentges said.

On offense, the Warriors feature an attack nearly split 50/50 between the run and pass that averages a little more than 35 points per game.

"They have a unique style to them," Hentges said. "They are as balanced as a team we've seen and are comfortable taking what the defense is giving them."

Andrew Hedgecorth (5-foot-9, 155 pounds, soph.) has completed 67 percent of his passes this season for 2,184 yards and 23 touchdowns with just five interceptions.

"They throw a lot of timing routes, a lot of short to medium throws that are very successful," Hentges said.

Three Warrior receivers have at least 32 catches this season.

Rhett Foster (6-2, 155 jr.) has a team-high 45 catches for 734 yards and tops the Kansas City area with 12 receptions for touchdowns. Samuel Calvert (5-10, 170 jr.) has 40 catches for 461 yards and six touchdowns, while Kevin Kitsche (5-11, 150 jr.) has 32 receptions totaling 438 yards and two scores.

Hayden Sigg (5-11, 180 jr.) tops the Warriors with 998 yards rushing (5.2 avg.) this season. He has scored 14 touchdowns.

"He's a talented runner, a slasher," Hentges said.

On defense, the Warriors are allowing just 9.2 points per game. In its three postseason shutout victories, Smithville has given up just 370 total yards and 21 first downs to its opponents,

Helias is expecting to see a 4-3 front most of the time tonight from the Smithville defense, with a shift to a 3-front in passing situations. The Warriors' defense looks a lot like the Crusaders in their formations.

"It was easy for our defense to replicate their defense in practice because there are a lot of similar concepts," Hentges said. "And our offense is familiar because we see it a lot in practice."

Smithville was tied with West Plains for the No. 5 spot in the final regular-season Missouri Media Rankings.

Top-ranked Helias held off West Plains 36-30 to win its quarterfinal last Friday night at Ray Hentges Stadium.

"It was dramatic to the end, we're just very happy to come out with a win," Chris Hentges said.

The Crusaders got the win despite a fumble that resulted in a safety, a blocked punt and an interception that was returned for a touchdown.

Hentges believes the interception was a big turning point in the game. Helias led 17-6 before the pick and score a little more than four minutes to go before halftime.

"We put our quarterback in a bad spot with that play call and their linebacker made a heck of a good play," he said. "If we take that drive down and score, we're up three scores and the game is over.

"But we gave them life with that mistake and it was a battle to the end. I told one of our coaches we were in a four-quarter war now. We knew they were never going to give up and you can't make mistakes like that against a good football team. It's tough to put a good football team away when you do those things."

It was the first time Helias had led by single digits in the fourth quarter since the opening game of the season against Lutheran: St. Charles. The Crusaders are hoping to carry over the lessons they learned last Friday night into tonight's game.

"You learn something from every experience," Hentges said. "Most of the year in the fourth quarter, the game has been settled. It was good our starters had to play to the end to make sure we secured the win

"The boys fought to the end."

The win wrapped up a 9-0 record at home this season for the Crusaders. In its three road games, Helias has traveled to Columbia to face Hickman and gone twice down Stadium Boulevard to take on Capital City and Jefferson City.

Those trips totaled about 80 minutes round-trip. It's nearly three hours to Smithville, but the Crusaders don't think it's a big deal.

"It's not like we're jumping on a plane and going to California, then we'd be concerned," Hentges said. "It will be a little different, but nothing we haven't been through multiple times before in previous seasons."

Game time is 7 p.m.

Notes: The Helias-Smithville winner will face either MICDS (6-0) or Union (7-4) in the state title game next Friday night at Adkins Stadium. MICDS and Union will meet Saturday afternoon in their semifinal. Smithville advanced to the Class 4 semifinals in 2018, losing 20-14 to MICDS in St. Louis. Smithville's losses this season were to Grain Valley (34-24) in the season opener and to Platte County (28-7) in Week 5. Those two schools met in last Friday's Class 5 quarterfinals, with Platte County posting a 31-28 victory. Smithville has allowed just 38 points in its last seven games since losing to Platte County, including its 38-0 quarterfinal win against Grandview. Isaac Lopez led Helias with 14 total tackles against West Plains. Will Heckman, Ethan Holzhauser and Jacob Watson all added eight stops. Heckman had two of Helias' six tackles for loss. Aleck Barchenski, Helias' senior receiver and defensive back, will miss tonight's game with an injury. Dylan Kopp, who missed the West Plains game with an injury, will play tonight. The senior offensive and defensive lineman returned to the practice field this week.

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