45 / 36
      48 / 34
      47 / 30

      Righting the ship

      The Helias Crusaders had worked hard, very hard, and seemed ready for the season-opener on Aug. 30. Then, Phil Pitts watched his players go down with more cramps than they had rushing yards (9) in the second half. Harrisonville 22, Helias 21, at a steamy Adkins Stadium. A painful loss, in more ways than one. "Obviously, we didn't do a very good job of handling the heat," said Pitts, the Helias head coach. "That's a direct result of our not doing things in the offseason to get ready." Mid-August felt like late September, and that did the Crusaders no favors getting ready for a 100-degree heat index. "When we had the cooler temperatures, we probably should have been pushing them harder and doing a little bit more," Pitts said. "While the kids liked it and it made for good, easy practices at the time, it didn't really prepare us for what was coming. "That's something that we found out. That's our fault as a staff and that's something we've discussed and addressed." There were other lessons learned. "We took a lot from that game and I think our kids bought into that," Pitts said. "They were upset by the loss and the way that we played ... we could have done a lot of things better. "We've done those things better since then." Indeed. As the weather has cooled, the Crusaders (2-1, ranked No. 3 in Class 4 and No. 2 in the KRCG Mid-Missouri Big School Power Poll) have gotten hot --- they've outscored their last two opponents by a tidy 107-27. Beating struggling Sedalia Smith-Cotton 56-15 in Week 2 was one thing. But going on the road and laying a 51-12 beatdown on previously unbeaten Quincy (Ill.) Notre Dame was something else. Notre Dame --- which opened some eyes by winning at Hannibal in its opener --- looked to be a worthy test. Nothing doing. "We still think Quincy is a good football team, we just played really well," Pitts said. "Offense, defense, special teams ... our kids were physical and there was a lot of enthusiasm. "I just think it was a night when we executed at our top level, and we saw what we could do when that happens." Senior running back Garrett Buschjost rushed for 110 yards and scored three touchdowns for the Crusaders, who blew open a 42-0 halftime lead. Senior quarterback Wyatt Porter rushed for 78 yards, giving him 242 for the season, and completed 10-of-12 passes for 129 yards and a score. Porter has now thrown for 546 yards this season --- with seven touchdowns and no interceptions --- heading into Friday night's 7 p.m. game against Columbia Hickman (1-2) at Adkins Stadium. "They're a good, physical football team with some scary talent," Pitts said of the Kewpies, who beat Helias 21-14 last year in Columbia. All the recent news is not good for the Crusaders, however. In a freak accident during a walk-through practice last Thursday, senior running back/safety Brock Gerstner suffered a season-ending broken right leg when a player fell into him. A painful loss, in more ways than one. "Brock just does everything right; my heart goes out to him," Pitts said. Gerstner missed last season with a shoulder injury. Now this, in his final season. "I told the kids, sometimes it's okay for a man to cry," Pitts said. "Last Thursday was one of those days. Brock's a great player and he's an even better person. That's why it hurts so much. "You know, God does everything for a reason, sometimes you just have to search for it." Gerstner had surgery Tuesday morning. "He's doing fine and he's going to be fine," Pitts said. "The only way we can make Brock feel better is to go out there and give a great effort every night. Our kids are going to use that." "Those days where you might be a little sore or a little hurt, they realize it can all be taken from you, just like that." III Friday night's game will feature the season's first Central Bank/KRCG Tailgate Party. From 5-6:30 at Adkins Stadium, paying fans will receive a free t-shirt, quarter-pound hot dog, Hy-Vee chips and a Coke product. This is the seventh year for these tailgate parties. More than 40,000 shirts and too many hot dogs to count have been given away.