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story.lead_photo.caption Helias offensive lineman Jack Klebba gets set in pass protection as quarterback Drew Miller drops back and looks for a receiver to throw to during a game earlier this month against Hickman at Ray Hentges Stadium. Photo by Jason Strickland / News Tribune.

It's the meat in a CMAC sandwich.

Last Friday night, the Helias Crusaders traveled to Columbia to defeat the Battle Spartans. Next Friday, the Crusaders go back to Columbia to take on the Rock Bridge Bruins, with the winner taking a big leg-up in the race for the Central Missouri Activities Conference title.

Tonight at Ray Hentges Stadium, the Crusaders (2-1) step out of conference play to take on the Granite City (Ill.) Warriors (0-3) in a game they can't overlook.

"We're looking forward to getting on the field, it doesn't matter who we're playing," Helias coach Chris Hentges said. "It's not ideal to play an non-conference game in Week 4, but that's what we've got."

The Crusaders are coming off their most impressive game in the young season. They scored 21 unanswered points to close the first half to take a 15-point lead into intermission on their way to a 35-22 victory against the then-Class 5 No. 5 Spartans.

"To go on the road against a Class 5 ranked opponent, a conference opponent, a district opponent, that was a very important win for us," Hentges said.

Even though the yards might not show it, the Crusaders had a balanced offensive attack against the Spartans. Helias finished with 435 total yards — 281 rushing, 154 passing — in the victory.

"As we had the lead, we wanted to run the ball and shorten the game," Hentges said. "But early, when we wanted to throw it more, we were effective."

The Helias defense did a good job of limiting a potent Battle rushing attack to just 104 yards.

"I think we did a great job of controlling the game, start to finish," Hentges said.

The run defense of the Crusaders figures to be put to the test tonight by Warriors quarterback Kayshawn White. The 5-foot-10, 170-pound senior was a receiver in Week 1 before taking over quarterback duties in the past games.

"He's a dynamic playmaker and dynamic athlete," Hentges said. "He might throw it, he might keep it with designed quarterback draws where they get everyone out of the way and let him go.

"He's a playmaker who has the ball in his hands every play. From a defensive standpoint, we have to be locked in and focused every snap."

Operating out of a spread offense, White tallied a pair of touchdowns on 60-plus yard runs last week against Francis Howell.

"They were both impressive runs," Hentges said. "He just ran away from those guys, he has elite speed."

And it's not just north-south speed.

"He's shifty, he has wiggle to go along with his straight-line speed," Hentges said. "That's what is impressive about him, he's so darned fast that we won't be able to catch him."

Assignment football will be the key for the Helias defense in slowing White.

"Team tackling, get to the ball," Hentges said. "If he gets outside, we need to force him back inside to our pursuit.

"It's going to come down to fundamentals."

Defensively, the Warriors operate out of a 4-3 front with elite athletes holding down spots in the secondary.

"They have had a tough time getting off the field at some points, but we will have to execute to have success against them," Hentges said.

Among Granite City's top defenders are lineman Dorian Arguelles (6-5, 335) and linebacker Marquese Berry (6-2, 180).

Hentges said the best comparison to Granite City is going back to the days when Helias took on Gateway Tech, also out of the St. Louis area.

"They've got big and strong physical athletes like Gateway did," Hentges said. "They will be a test for us."

It's a test Hentges believes his team can pass.

"Our team is stepping in the right direction," he said.

Game time is 7 p.m.

Notes: In the CMAC, the schools all play non-conference games in Weeks 1 and 9. The other non-conference game week in the seven-team conference is different for each team. ... It is the first meeting between the two programs. Helias was scheduled to go to Granite City last year, but the game was called off when Illinois moved high school football to the spring due to COVID-19. Granite City has filled this week in the next two-year schedule cycle, so Helias is looking for a Week 4 opponent in the 2022 and 2023 seasons. Granite City opened the season with a 49-0 loss to Jerseyville, Ill., then fell 45-20 to Carbondale, Ill., in Week 2. Last Friday night, Granite City dropped a 70-14 decision to Francis Howell, the No. 6 team in Class 6 in this week's Missouri Media Rankings. This second of three straight games for Granite City against Missouri foes. The Warriors will play host to Chaminade next Friday. Helias entered this week's Class 5 rankings at No. 10. Crusader senior offensive and defensive lineman Drew Distler will miss tonight's game with an injured shoulder. Gage Wilde and Tyler Sandbothe, both senior linebackers, led the Crusaders with nine tackles each in the win against Battle. For the season, Wilde tops Helias in total tackles with 31. Sandbothe is second with 24, while Beau Bondurant is next with 22. Helias is No. 2 after three weeks in the Class 5 District 4 standings. Holt (3-0), ranked No. 4 in the state, tops the district with 48 points. Helias is next in the six-team district with 42.33 points. The top two teams will receive first-round byes to start district play. Holt will host Timberland in a clash of undefeated teams tonight.

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