The Christ Presbyterian Academy football team completed a perfect regular season on Friday night.
Well, okay, it wasn’t perfect in the traditional sense. But the Lions were perfect in the games that mattered most.
With a 35-21 road victory over Franklin Road Academy, the Lions captured the Division II-AA Middle Region championship and completed an undefeated run through the region with a 4-0 mark for a third consecutive season.
CPA quarterback Cade Law passed for 183 yards with two touchdowns and also ran for a score for the Lions, who jumped out to an early lead by scoring a touchdown in the opening minute of the game en route to spoiling senior night for Panthers (7-3, 2-2).
CPA, the defending state champs, went 0-6 outside the region this season — including opening the year with four straight losses — while playing one of the state’s most challenging schedules and routinely facing teams from bigger classifications. But now, the Lions will head into the playoffs as a No. 1 seed, and could play as many as three home games.
“We’re extremely proud of our team, especially our seniors,” said CPA head coach Ingle Martin. “There aren’t a whole lot of people in life who can go through the adversity and the open criticism (that we did). But our guys knew what we had and they believed in it.”
CPA will host Knoxville Webb (3-6) in the first round of the DII-AA playoffs next week. Northpoint Christian (3-7) will travel to FRA.
CPA’s Maverick Rodriquez played a big role in Friday’s win. He set the tone for the night by returning the game’s opening kickoff 59 yards to set up CPA’s first touchdown, and he later punctuated his night with a highlight-reel play in which he hauled in a long pass from Law, juked a defender with a nifty move and then raced to the end zone for a 73-yard touchdown. He also rushed three times for 25 yards and had a key pass break-up on defense in the fourth quarter.
After the game, Rodriguez said the Lions — who graduated 31 seniors from last year’s state title team — are well prepared for the playoffs after navigating through their daunting regular-season schedule.
“We just tried to get better in the games that weren’t in our division, and then build off those into the division games,” he said. “We played our hearts out in those games, but (in the end) we didn’t really care about our record.”
FRA will carry a No. 2 seed into the playoffs, and will host an opening-round game next week.
FRA head coach Bill Whittemore said his team was understandably disappointed with Friday’s outcome, but believes the Panthers have the potential to make some postseason noise.
“Tonight was a tough one,” Whittemore said. “This was our chance to kind of make our mark a little bit. But hats off to CPA and Coach Ingle. Those guys are a good football team.”
FRA quarterback Sean Casey passed for 166 yards in the loss, and Jeffrey Vercher rushed for a team-high 91 yards. Kingston Gardner had a big night, hauling in six catches for 77 yards and also throwing a touchdown pass — a 43-yard completion to Sam Taylor — on a trick play in the second quarter.
Whittemore said his team can take plenty of positives into the postseason.
“My message (to my team) after the game was that we just hung with the team that won the state championship last year and a team that is, year in and year out, one of the best teams in the state,” he said. “Hopefully, our guys can take some confidence and belief into the second season of the year — the postseason.”
CPA jumped out to the quick 7-0 lead in the opening minute of the game by putting together a two-play, 21-yard drive with Langston Patterson scoring on a six-yard run. CPA scored again in the final minute of the first quarter when Andrew Whitely broke free for a 19-yard touchdown run, and Mac Siebert’s extra-point gave CPA a 14-0 lead.
FRA cut the lead to 14-7 early in the second quarter when Gardner threw his touchdown pass to Taylor, but CPA answered with a scoring drive on its ensuing possession — capped by Law’s six-yard run — to build a 21-7 halftime lead.
After a scoreless third quarter, the teams combined for three touchdowns in the span of less than three minutes in the fourth quarter. The flurry started with Law hitting Rodriquez on the 73-yard scoring play. FRA followed quickly when Casey found Gardner on a 23-yard touchdown pass to cap a three-play drive that cut CPA’s lead to 28-14 with 7:45 remaining. But the Lions answered just 26 seconds later, with Law throwing a perfect strike to Sam Ellis for a 51-yard touchdown pass.
Martin said winning the region championship was especially satisfying for a team that had endured plenty of hardships during the first half of the season.
“No matter what the circumstances were, they came to practice on Monday ready to work,” he said.