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story.lead_photo.caption Helias running back Ryan Klahr heads to the end zone for a touchdown during last Friday night's game against Granite City, Ill., at Ray Hentges Stadium. Photo by Ken Barnes / News Tribune.

Hannibal is high on the list, Jefferson City figures to jump to the top in the next few years.

But for the Helias Crusaders, a football rivalry doesn't get any better right now than a game against the Rock Bridge Bruins.

"We have a lot of rivals, but when you look at the 36 years we've played Rock Bridge, I think we're 18-18," Helias coach Chris Hentges said as the Crusaders (3-1) prepared to face the Bruins (3-1) tonight in Columbia. "That's the making of a great rivalry when you have that back-and-forth balance."

The Crusaders and Bruins have battled in league games for years, first in the North Central Missouri Conference and now the Central Missouri Activities Conference.

"It's always been a meaningful game going to back to the days in the NCMC," Hentges said. "It's no different in the CMAC.

"We have extreme respect for Rock Bridge, we know they will be ready to play."

Rock Bridge will bring a three-game winning streak into the contest, all three CMAC contests.

Offensively, the Bruins are averaging 38 points per game. But they're averaging 47.3 points in their winning streak.

"They've put up some big points the last three weeks and I expect them to test our defense," Hentges said. "It will be a big challenge."

Nate Dent leads the Bruin offense. The three-year starter at quarterback, Dent is 31-of-52 passing for 420 yards and four touchdowns. But he is just as dangerous running the ball, totaling 290 yards (9.7 avg.) and seven scores.

"Their offense starts and ends with him," Hentges said. "He runs so well and he throws it so well, he's a dual-threat back there.

"The run-pass options with him are scary. Quarterbacks like that are dangerous."

Payton Messer leads Rock Bridge with 14 receptions for 199 yards and four touchdowns. Stephan Gibson is second on the Bruins with 12 catches.

Rock Bridge running back Jim Whaley had a big game last Friday night against Capital City at Adkins Stadium, picking up 106 yards on 18 carries.

"They've got some good backs and receivers," Hentges said. "There's a lot of talent among their skill players.

"Teams like Rock Bridge can put a lot of stress on your defense because they do a great job of being balanced."

Defensively, Rock Bridge is allowing a little less than 21 points per game.

The Bruins have shown three different defensive looks this season, Hentges said. The Bruins, who return eight starters on defense, normally run out of a 3-4 front, but also have morphed into a 4-3 or a 4-2.

"We've been practicing against all three because you never know," Hentges said. "You never want to be in a position where you're guessing what they are going to run. We feel we are prepared for whatever they throw at us."

With the shifting formations, making the correct calls for pass protection can be important.

"When you face a team that can have multiple fronts and moves around, you have to be on point with your blocking schemes," Hentges said. "Pass protection is about six guys working together in harmony, the five offensive linemen and the one running back."

Helias center Cristian Prasad will play a key role in making sure the Crusaders are in the right blocking scheme tonight.

"If there needs to be a change in our scheme, he's the one that calls it out," Hentges said. "Cristian is a very intelligent young man and he does a great job of communicating when we need to make a change."

Helias is coming off a 49-0 home victory against Granite City, Ill.

"It wasn't as competitive as we would have hoped, but on the other hand, you don't want to schedule a Week 4 and get some monster out of Kansas City or St. Louis sandwiched between two conference games," Hentges said.

"When we scheduled that game two years ago, Granite City was a pretty respectable program. But they graduated a pretty strong senior class last year and they're on their fourth head coach in the past four years. They looked like a program that was struggling a little bit."

The blowout victory provided an opportunity for the Crusaders reserves to get some time in front of the fans at Ray Hentges Stadium.

"The offense scored a touchdown, the defense held them scoreless to preserve the shutout," Hentges said. "I'm really proud of everyone who got a chance to get into the game.

"Monday night is their night, that's when they play their JV or freshman games. It's always special when they can get out on the field on a Friday night, it's meaningful to get them that opportunity."

Tonight, the Crusaders will have the opportunity to take a big step in defense of their CMAC title.

"This was a great week of practice," Hentges said. "Our kids know what this game means and has always meant to us. A great rivalry game, a big game in the CMAC against a Class 6 team.

"We're fighting for a conference title and that's a big goal in our program."

Game time is 7 p.m.

Notes: Helias has won the last two games in the series with Rock Bridge, winning 27-20 in 2019 and 56-24 last season. Rock Bridge opened the season with a 35-10 loss at Staley. The Bruins then beat Sedalia Smith-Cotton (50-0) at home before downing Jefferson City (49-34) and Capital City (43-14) the last two Fridays at Adkins Stadium. The Crusaders are 8-0 in the one-plus years of CMAC play. Helias senior offensive and defensive lineman Drew Distler will return tonight after missing last week's game against Granite City with an injury. The Crusaders moved up one spot to No. 9 in this week's Class 5 Missouri Media Rankings. Helias quarterback Drew Miller completed 10 passes for 242 yards in the win against Granite City. Those numbers were incorrect in last Sunday's News Tribune. ... Beau Bondurant led Helias with seven tackles against Granite City, while Korbin Fisher had six. For the season, Gage Wilde leads Helias with 36 total tackles. Bondurant and Tyler Sandbothe are next with 29 each.

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