It promises to be a week of learning for the Helias Crusaders.
Offensively and defensively, practice in the next few days figures to be full of instruction after Friday night's 54-20 loss to the Hannibal Pirates to open the season at Ray Hentges Stadium.
"This game does not define our season," Helias coach Chris Hentges said. "It's a disappointment, it's not the way we wanted to start our season. But all of our goals are still out there.
"We've had a lot of good football teams here at Helias that have lost tough first games, but have rallied and come back stronger with great seasons."
Henges said the Crusaders have a lot of areas to improve on to make it a great season.
Offensively, Helias could not establish a running game against Hannibal. The Crusaders finished with 13 rushing yards on 20 carries. That yardage total includes a 25-yard loss on a bad snap, but take that out and the Crusaders still averaged less than two yards per carry.
"We have to get better there," Hentges said. "That will take some of the pressure off our offense."
The Crusaders have five new starters on the offensive line.
"We have a young line that will learn from this and get better," Hentges said.
Drew Miller, in his first start at quarterback for the Crusaders, finished 10-of-23 passing for 268 yards and two touchdowns.
"I like the way he threw it, he had some nice moments we can build on," Hentges said.
Two of his better throws resulted in long touchdowns — 71 yards to Billy Underwood and 74 yards to Kaden Hampson.
Miller threw one interception, that coming on his first pass of the night that Hannibal's Jackson Karr returned 31 yards for a touchdown.
"That was a tough one, the linebacker read it well," Hentges said. "It was a good play on his part."
Hannibal's offense controlled the game from the start. On the opening series, the Helias defense forced Hannibal into a third-and-15, which the Pirates converted into a first down on a 24-yard pass from quarterback Courtland Watson to Aneyas Williams.
Seven plays later, Williams scored on a 5-yard run to give the Pirates the lead.
Hannibal then turned the interception for the touchdown on Helias' second play from scrimmage to take a 13-0 advantage. The Pirates increased their lead to 19-0 late in the first quarter.
The touchdown pass to Underwood, followed by the extra point from Vinnie Calvaruso, with less than a minute to go in the quarter made it 19-7.
A 46-yard pass from Watson to Williams with 10:04 on the clock bumped Hannibal's lead to 26-7. Helias posted its best drive of the night late in the second quarter, going 60 yards in seven plays, capped by a 2-yard run by Will Herrbold to make it 26-13.
But there was still 1:17 on the clock before halftime and the Pirates weren't done. They went from their 20 to the Helias 10 as time wound down. On fourth-and-goal from the Helias 10, Watson and Williams connected for a touchdown with :00.3 left on the clock as the Pirates took a 30-13 lead into halftime.
Hannibal finished the half with 315 total yards on 51 plays. Helias had 135 yards on 21 plays.
"The whole first half was littered with third-and-long and fourth-and-long plays they converted for first downs," Hentges said. "We just couldn't get off the field.
"We weren't able to sustain drives and they were. But that's football, you have to make plays on those situations. They made them and we didn't."
The Pirates ran an up-tempo offense in the first half, often going no-huddle. But with the three-score lead, they slowed things down in the third and fourth quarters to manage the clock.
A 64-yard run by Williams increased Hannibal's lead to 40-13 midway through the third quarter. On the next play from scrimmage, Miller and Hampson connected for their 74-yard touchdown to make it 40-20.
"They just kept the two- and three-score cushion, we just couldn't close the gap," Hentges said. "But it's hard to close the gap when they were running the ball with the effectiveness they were running it."
A 1-yard run by Watson early in the fourth quarter made it 47-20. The Pirates got the final score of the game with 1:15 to go on a 30-yard pass from Watson to Kaiser Greenwell.
Williams, a sophomore who already has an offer from Oregon, had a big night. He ran for 94 yards and one touchdown, while catching eight passes for 168 yards and two scores.
"We had him double-covered a lot of the time and he was still catching it," Hentges said. "It's not like we weren't prepared, we were prepared. He just made the plays."
AJ Thomas did a lot of the work on the ground for the Pirates, rushing 33 times for 143 yards.
"Athletes like that, power like that. we can't simulate that in practice," Hentges said. "It was a bit of a shock factor, especially early in the game."
The 54 points are the most allowed in a game by Helias since Sept. 14, 2018, a 61-35 loss to Cardinal Ritter in St. Louis.
Hannibal, a Class 4 quarterfinalist last year, is 1-0 heading into this Friday's home game against Jefferson City (0-1).
"I would say they will be one of the favorites in Class 4, they have everything you need to win it," Hentges said. "We knew this was going to be a tough game, maybe our toughest of the season."
Helias, which had a 14-game winning streak snapped, will open Central Missouri Activities Conference action this Friday at home against Hickman (0-1). Game time is 7 p.m.