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story.lead_photo.caption Helias' Zach Wolken kisses the Class 4 state championship trophy Dec. 4 after the Crusaders defeated the MICDS Rams at Adkins Stadium. Photo by Jason Strickland / News Tribune.

All of the schedule changes that have had to be made this fall reminded me of what Vienna softball coach Mick Byrd told me back in October.

"The worst possible ballgame is beating somebody by 15 or 20 runs," he said. "It's no good for the people that you play and it's also no good for you."

Byrd said that after a 6-4 loss to Capital City, a game matching up a Class 1 team against a Class 5 team.

It's games like that, even in a loss, that helped the Lady Eagles win the state championship.

"That game did us a world of good," Byrd said. " Capital City is on our schedule because we wanted somebody who would really make us play and make us perform to the very top of our abilities."

With COVID-19 causing numerous high school football teams to cancel games, it left those opponents needing replacements.

In the case for the Helias Crusaders and Blair Oaks Falcons, their replacement games worked out for the best.

Helias' season began with a road trip to Hannibal being canceled.

While that would have been a quality game for both teams to have on the schedule with Hannibal (fifth) and Helias (first) finishing the season in the top five of the Missouri Media Rankings, the Crusaders found a formidable opponent in Lutheran: St. Charles, a district champion in Class 2 last season.

The Cougars gave the Crusaders a challenge to begin the season, with Helias winning 31-20.

Before that game even made it on the schedule, Helias knew it had an open date for Week 9 with the uncertainty of Vianney even participating in football in the fall.

Helias didn't fill that spot with a scrub, either.

Cardinal Ritter, an eventual Class 3 semifinalist, made the trip from St. Louis to Ray Hentges Stadium for a competitive 27-18 contest.

That victory set up Helias for a run to the Class 4 state championship.

A cancellation in Week 5 for Blair Oaks set up a matchup of football powers that wouldn't normally happen.

Valle Catholic, a program that's won 15 state titles at the Class 1, 1A and 2A levels, hosted Blair Oaks and handed the Falcons their only loss of the season, 35-28.

It's not a trip many programs would have agreed to, but Blair Oaks did it.

In a regular season filled with blowout victories, that game made the Falcons play for four quarters and taught them what it would take to win once they reached the Class 3 quarterfinals and beyond.

When the Falcons trailed Lutheran North 9-7 at halftime in the quarterfinals, they were not fazed and outscored the Crusaders 37-0 in the final 24 minutes.

Blair Oaks then won shootouts against Cardinal Ritter and Maryville to win the state championship.

Would Blair Oaks have still won if it didn't travel nearly three hours to Ste. Genevieve in Week 5? Maybe. But it certainly didn't hurt taking that loss in the middle of the regular season, just like it didn't hurt Vienna's softball team to lose a tough game against Capital City.

Maryville is a program that knows what it takes to made deep postseason runs consistently. The Spoofhounds have made Blair Oaks an annual opponent and added defending Class 3 champion Odessa to its schedule this season because of a cancellation.

"Nobody wants to come to Maryville to play us," Maryville coach Matt Webb said following the Class 3 state championship game at Adkins Stadium. "We could have gone anywhere from places in Iowa, Arkansas, Kentucky, western Kansas.

" For us to go play them was me, and I challenged them and they rose to the occasion. We lost that game too, but gosh darn, we grew and I'm so proud of them. That was a great football game that really drove us to have a great season."

That 28-14 defeat at Odessa was one of just three losses for the Spoofhounds before the title game. They challenged themselves and it paid off.

It's matchups like these that teams shouldn't shy away from.

So what if it might take a long bus trip and spoil an unblemished regular season? That won't matter if the final game of the season ends in victory.

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