The Helias Crusaders know they won't have the best athletes on the field tonight.
But that doesn't mean they can't overcome that with technique and execution.
"That has been our focus all week," Helias coach Chris Hentges said as the Crusaders (1-1) prepared to take on the Battle Spartans (1-0) tonight in Columbia. "We can't run stride for stride with them, they have better athletes than we do. But we feel our technique and execution can give us an edge."
Battle, No. 5 in this week's Class 5 Missouri Media Rankings, was off last week due to COVID-19 protocols.
"I would imagine they started preparing for us last week, I'm sure they used the extra time wisely," Hentges said. "But that extra game makes a difference, you learn a lot from Week 1 to Week 2."
The Crusaders learned a lot about themselves from Week 1 to Week 2. Helias rebounded from an opening loss to Hannibal to post a 41-6 victory against the Hickman Kewpies to start Central Missouri Activities Conference play.
"As a young team, we needed a win," Hentges said. "The players have invested a lot, put in a lot of hard work.
"To get a win, a big win against a conference opponent, was big and hopefully a springboard for better things to come."
Battle won its opener 36-35 against Fort Zumwalt North, scoring three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to rally for the victory.
"Zumwalt North big-played them early and Battle showed a lot of resolve to keep fighting back, keep fighting back," Hentges said. "That was a heck of a high school football game to watch on tape."
Fort Zumwalt North led 21-8 at the half and scored an early touchdown in the fourth quarter to stretch its advantage to 35-14. But the Spartans found a way to come back and score the game-winning touchdown and 2-point conversion with a little more than a minute to play.
Battle tailback Rickie Dunn eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark in the win and ran for three 2-point conversions.
"He's the real deal, he's going to be a handful for us to tackle," Hentges said. "We have to get hats to the ball, we can't get in situations where we are trying to tackle him one-on-one, that won't end well for us.
"Rallying, getting to the ball will be very important for us."
He is just one of several threats for the Spartans, who operate out of a spread offense.
"They are going to feature their athletes, try to get them the ball in space," Hentges said. "It's going to be a test for our defense."
Dunn is in the starting lineup in place of Gerry Marteen, who tore is ACL last month and is out for the season.
"Some of the runs he had against us last year were so impressive," Hentges said. "You really have to feel for him, he's so talented and to lose the season is tough.
"But they have plenty of athletes to plug and play."
The Helias offense had a good passing attack in Week 1, while the run game was big in Week 2.
"The passing was out of necessity because we fell behind so early," Hentges said. "Last week, we wanted to establish the run.
"We've worked on both phases very hard this week."
Hickman was in a five-man box at the line of scrimmage last week, which invited Helias to run the football.
"They were giving us the chance to run the ball and so we took it," Hentges said. "You have to take what they're giving you."
The Crusaders expect to see a 4-2 front tonight from the Spartans.
"They do a good job of getting pressure," Hentges said. "We know they will attack us at the line of scrimmage. We've been working on that, blitz pickup will be a big key for us."
On the injury front, Cole Stumpe will start at receiver and at defensive back this week after making his season debut last week for the Crusaders.
"That's big for us on both sides of the ball," Hentges said.
Helias running back/defensive back Carson Brauner suffered a sprained ankle late in the game against Hickman. But he has been healthy this week in practice, Hentges said.
The Crusaders are the defending CMAC champion and figure to fight it out with Battle and Rock Bridge for the crown this season.
"This would be a chance for us to get a leg up in the conference race," Hentges said. "This game will have a big say in who wins the conference."
Looking down the road, this is a big game for the postseason. Helias and Battle are both in Class 5 District 4 and the winner would have a leg up when it comes to district seeding.
"We're a proud program and this is a chance to prove that we can go up and compete with one of the top teams in Class 5," Hentges said.
Notes: Helias defeated Battle 41-19 last season at Ray Hentges Stadium. "That might have been our best game of the year, we really played well," Chris Hentges said. The Spartans hold a 3-2 lead in the all-time series and have won both of the games played in Columbia. Helias is 7-0 all-time in CMAC games. Beau Bondurant led Helias with seven tackles against Hickman, including two for loss. Sam Hentges, Tyler Sandbothe and Gage Wilde all had six stops. Wilde leads Helias with 22 total tackles this season, while Tanner Nappier tops the Crusaders with three tackles for loss. Helias returns home next Friday to host Granite City, Ill.