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story.lead_photo.caption A group of Helias defenders bring down Battle running back Rickie Dunn during Friday night's game at Ray Hentges Stadium. Photo by Liv Paggiarino / News Tribune.

The Helias Crusaders looked at it as a challenge.

The Battle Spartans brought a powerful running game to a key early-season Central Missouri Activities Conference matchup between a pair of 2-0 teams Friday night at Ray Hentges Stadium.

The Spartans had run for an average of 340 yards in their first two games. The Crusaders cut that nearly in half.

As it turns out, they were up to the challenge.

"We stuck to our technique, we did what the coaches taught us," Helias senior defensive lineman Dylan Kopp said after the Crusaders' 41-19 win against the Spartans. "We knew we had to have a great week of practice as a group, especially with the front seven.

"We executed tonight."

The Crusaders entered the game giving up less than a yard per carry through two games. They knew it wasn't realistic to expect that kind of performance against the Spartans. Battle finished with 176 yards on the ground, with 122 of those coming on four carries.

"We thought they might bust one or two and they did," Helias coach Chris Hentges said. "But for the most part, we controlled their run game and that was the key to our success."

Another key was the Helias run game. The Crusaders ran the ball on 17 of their first 20 offensive plays and finished the first half with 239 yards on the ground on 30 attempts.

"We put it on our offensive linemen," Hentges said. "This was a game that if we were going to win, to be successful, it all was going to start at the line of scrimmage. Their front is big and physical, but I liked our game plan in the way we were going to block them."

Kopp also is a starter on the offensive line for the Crusaders.

"Everything was hitting," he said. "We expected every front they had, we were ready for whatever they showed us."

A lot of those yards came on runs between the tackles.

"They made it hard to get to the ends, but with the external pressure, we were able to find seams in the middle," Hentges said. "This was our best rushing night in a long time."

Battle got on the board first Friday, going 78 yards on five plays, with the score coming on a 27-yard run by quarterback Khaeel Dampier to give the Spartans a 6-0 lead.

But Helias scored the next three touchdowns — a 6-yard run by Alex Clement, a 10-yard run by Ryan Klahr and a 30-yard pass from Jake Weaver to Cole Stumpe — to take a 20-6 lead early in the second quarter.

The teams then combined to score three touchdowns in a one-minute span later in the quarter.

After a running into the kicker penalty on the Crusaders gave the Spartans a first down, Battle running back Gerry Marteen Jr. took advantage on the next play to score from 55 yards out and it was 20-12.

"We didn't let adversity snowball, the kids bounced back and made big plays," Hentges said. "That's the mark of a confident and mature football team."

Three plays later, Weaver hit Drew Higgins for a 26-yard score. Isaac Lopez booted one of his five extra points and Helias led 27-12.

A 33-yard kickoff return got Battle into Helias territory. Dampier scampered 20, then 22 yards to the end zone to cut the Crusaders' lead to 27-19.

But Helias was able to tack on two touchdowns in less than :30 later in the second quarter to push the advantage back to double digits.

"We did what we needed to do offensively in the first half, we answered their scores with a score of our own," Hentges said.

After faking a pitch, Weaver turned up field to run 43 yards for a touchdown and a 34-19 Helias lead.

Aleck Barchenski then picked off a Dampier pass that was tipped at least twice to give Helias the ball back at the Battle 45. On the next play, Weaver connected with a wide-open Damon Johanns down the middle for a touchdown and a 41-19 advantage at the half.

"We executed our game plan really well, we were aggressive when we need to take it to them," Hentges said.

With the big lead, Helias relied even more on its run game and the defense's ability to slow the ground game of Battle.

"We needed to just ground and pound and run that clock," Hentges said. "I wish we could have put a couple up on the board in the second half, but our defense played so well in keeping them from scoring."

Battle's best chance to score in the second half came on its opening drive. The Spartans had a first-and-goal at the Crusader 7. The first three plays netted two total yards. On fourth down, Helias linebacker Ethan Holzhauser timed the snap perfectly and dragged down Battle running back Rickie Dunn in the backfield for a 4-yard loss late as time wound down in the third quarter.

It was one of 2.5 tackles for loss in the game for Holzhauser. He had 11 total stops. Lopez led Helias with 12 tackles, while Kopp totaled 10. Kopp, Jacob Watson and Jack Klebba recorded sacks.

Helias forced five Battle turnovers Friday night. Clement joined Barchenski with an interception. Quinton Baker, Drew Higgins and Watson recovered fumbles.

Battle (2-1 overall, 1-1 CMAC) will play Friday at Hickman.

"That's a quality program we beat, a quality win for the Crusaders," Hentges said.

Helias (3-0, 2-0) will step out of conference Friday when it will host Borgia, which took the place of Granite City on the schedule when Illinois moved high school football to the spring.

"We're going to have a great week of practice and try to get to 4-0," Kopp said.

Game time is 7 p.m.

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