Punt problems for Harrisonville aid Helias victory

The Helias special teams lived up to their name. Harrisonville? Not so much. In a clash of top-10 teams, the Crusaders made several big plays on special teams and made them stand up in a 16-12 victory in the season debut for both teams Friday night at Adkins Stadium. Special teams are considered one-third of the game. Friday night, they were about 95 percent of it. "Special teams were obviously very huge," said Phil Pitts, who was making his debut as Helias head coach. "We've been practicing them every day ... we did not ignore them. We knew against this football team we had to win them, we could not break even." It started in the first quarter on a Helias punt that bounced off a Harrisonville player. The Crusaders recovered at the 16 and scored five plays later on a 1-yard run by Aaron Vossen to make it 7-0. Later in the first, Justus Schulte blocked a field goal attempt. That kept three points off the board. In the fourth, Cam Berendzen blocked an extra point. Another point off the board. You do the math. "And we won by four points," Pitts said. "When two evenly-matched football teams come together, you have to find an edge. That was our edge." In the second quarter, a bad snap on a Harrisonvile punt attempt set up Helias at the 3, which led to a 23-yard field goal by Anthony Woodruff to make it 10-0 at the half. "Special teams," Pitts said, "are the reason we won this football game." Another special moment came in the third quarter, when Vossen picked up a first down on a fake punt. Instead of going three-and-out to start the half, the Crusaders kept it for nearly seven minutes and made it 13-0 on Woodruff's 23-yard field goal. Sandwiched around a pair of touchdown runs by the Wildcats' John Fuller in the fourth was a 20-yard field by Woodruff. Even with those two touchdown drives by Harrisonville, Helias gave up just 161 total yards. "Coach Andy Pitts put together a great defensive game plan and our guys executed," Pitts said. The Helias offense, which had just 254 total yards, was at its best when it counted most. After the Wildcats drew within 16-12 with 4:46 left --- Harrisonville was out of timeouts --- the Crusaders picked up three first downs to run out the clock. "That (offensive) line got three first downs," Pitts said. "Everybody talks about how small our line is, but they're in better shape than anybody we're going to play. We will win games in the fourth quarter because our guys will move you off the ball." It's just one game, but it's one Phil Pitts will never forget. "Our coaching staff took a group of young men and got them to care about the team more than they care about themselves," he said. "It feels more gratifying than any game I've ever been a part of." No small words, as Pitts was an anchor on the 1998 Helias state championship team, and was part of some big-time, Big 12 battles during his days with the Missouri Tigers. "It tops them all, I'm telling you what. Everything we've asked this team to do since December, they've done. And they did it with a smile on their face. "To see the look on their faces after this game, it's the greatest feeling in the world."