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story.lead_photo.caption Helias coach Chris Hentges talks with his team during last Friday night's game against Hannibal at Ray Hentges Stadium. Photo by Ken Barnes / News Tribune.

It was a week of getting back to the basics.

The Helias Crusaders felt that was the way to go after last Friday night's 54-20 loss to the Hannibal Pirates.

"That was an unacceptable performance, we all feel that way, from the head coach to the managers," Helias coach Chris Hentges said as the Crusaders (0-1) prepared for tonight's Central Missouri Activities Conference opener against the Hickman Kewpies (0-1) at Ray Hentges Stadium.

"That was not up to Helias Crusader standards, we've worked really hard this week and we're going to play better football from here forward, I promise you that."

The Crusaders return just a handful of starters on both sides of the ball, but Hentges didn't cite Helias' inexperience as a factor in the performance.

"We don't want to make excuses," Hentges said. "These guys have been in our system for three or four years now. They need to go out and execute under the Friday night lights and we just didn't do that."

The Crusaders struggled in all phases of the game against the Pirates.

"With some individual performances, there were some positives," Hentges said. "But as a team, offensively and defensively, there were more negatives than positives.

"You want to build on the things you did right and coach the things you did wrong. Last Saturday morning, we had a lot of coaching points."

Defensively, it was Helias' inability to get off the field.

"We just couldn't win third down," Hentges said. "We got them in third-and-long several times, but they kept their drives alive and those drives seemed to end up in the end zone."

One thing the Crusaders have employed to help the defense is to do a little less coaching during practice. But that's by design by defensive coordinator Phil Pitts.

"He's pulled back a little bit in practice because one thing we noticed was a lack of communication on the field," Hentges said. "The feeling on the defensive staff was they were doing too much of the communicating for the kids.

"Our coaches have been quiet this week. We expected the players to do all of the checks, all of the reminders. We may have been using our coaches as a crutch and the coaches can't be out there on the field during a game. The players need to be able to do that themselves, get themselves into the right spots."

Offensively, the Crusaders struggled to get anything going on a consistent basis.

"We scored three times, but we also threw a pick-six," Hentges said. "We had too many drives that ended up in punts.

"We thought we needed to score 35 points to win that game, keep the ball away from their offense, and we weren't able to do that."

Offensively, the Crusaders have taken quite a few pages out of the playbook for the time being.

"We had a pretty big game plan last week, it was too big," Hentges said. "Instead of doing a lot of things average, we've cut back to where we want to do a few things very well. We cut the run game in half, we cut the pass game in half."

When the Crusaders' offensive coaches met Sunday night to work on the game plan for Hickman, they started writing some plays on the board. It was a short list.

"We stopped and decided that was enough," Hentges said. "If we execute the ones we have on the board, that's enough. You don't need 85 plays, you'll never run that many in a game. We have a big playbook and I think we can outsmart ourselves."

The Helias offense figures to get a boost this week with a couple of players.

Cole Stumpe, Helias' only returning all-state player, will be back at receiver. He broke his collarbone during 7-on-7 drills early in the summer and was cleared to return this week.

"It's great to see him back," Hentges said. "He's a great football player, a great leader and it will be fun to see him out on the field again."

Drew Distler, a senior who started on the offensive line late last season due to injuries, is back after sitting out the opener. Distler also will play on the defensive line.

Hickman likely enters tonight's game with the same feelings as Helias, the chance for a restart. The Kewpies fell 45-0 in their opener at Francis Howell.

"They have a bad taste in their mouth, we have a bad taste in our mouth," Hentges said. "One of us is going to get a win on Friday night."

The Crusaders are expecting to get a good test from the Kewpies.

"Hickman is always going to have individual talent," Hentges said. "They've got some big kids on the offensive and defensive lines and some skill guys that can really do some good things."

Game time is 7 p.m.

"We believe in these guys, we want them to believe in themselves," Hentges said. "We can be a good football team.

"We got punched the mouth and we didn't respond very well. And that's not going to happen again."

Notes: Helias defeated Hickman 68-18 last year in Columbia in its first-ever CMAC game as the Crusaders went on to win the inaugural conference title. Three Crusaders finished with double-digit tackle totals against the Pirates last Friday. Gage Wilde led the way with 16 total stops. Beau Bondurant had 11, while Harrison Miller finished with 10. Helias received one 10th-place vote in this week's Class 5 Missouri Media Rankings. Helias will continue CMAC play next Friday when it travels to Columbia to take on Battle.

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