STORY BY JAKE DONOVAN | PHOTOS BY ANDY COLLIGNON
Christ Presbyterian Academy put an exclamation point on its perfect regular season and Division II-AA title with a 31-10 win over Franklin Road Academy in Friday’s all-district matchup with major playoff implications.
Senior quarterback Ryan Eledge led the charge for the unbeaten Lions (10-0/4-0 region), throwing for 179 yards and three touchdowns—all to three different targets—on a damp and cold night of football.
Two way starter Noah Henderson had five receptions for 94 yards and a touchdown, along with a key first quarter interception to help set the tone for the evening.
“We’ve been preparing all year for this and it shows in the results,” Henderson told the Home Page. “The relationships we have is what makes this team special. There are 32 seniors on this team, we know each other well and just have confidence in one another.”
The night got off to a bumpy start for the Lions, with Eledge throwing a rare interception on the opening drive. FRA failed to capitalize on the opportunity, an unfortunate tale for much of the Panthers’ night in a game where an upset win would have also resulted in winning the district.
“It just came down to execution,” Panthers head coach Bill Whittemore explained. “[CPA] played to their full capability tonight; we didn’t. In the end, yes it’s about the scorecard, but we keep preaching to the kids, play to your full potential every down.
“We didn’t do that often enough tonight and that was difference.”
That and being able to properly adapt to inclement weather.
Rain poured down at the start, transitioning to a cold and damp climate over the course of a game that took more than 2 1/2 hours in real time to complete due to to several delays with scoreboard malfunctions. In between the whistles, Eledge led a sustained offensive attack for the Lions, converting on four fourth down scenarios and coming up huge on the occasional big play.
The senior quarterback’s skills were evident in long touchdown strikes to Brett Nabors (22 yards) and Henderson (44 yards), both coming in heavy Panther secondary coverage. The latter strike put the Lions up 21-0, all but gearing up an eventual celebration.
“Ryan is a unique kid in that he can handle a wet football,” noted Lions head coach Ingle Martin. “He can throw a wet ball and we had the utmost confidence in him leading this team and working through these adverse conditions.”
On the other side, Panthers quarterback Sean Casey (7/23, 134 yards, 2 INT) did his best to replicate but spent the entire night playing come-from-behind.
An errant pass midway through the first quarter landed square in the chest of a defending Henderson, putting the Lions in the red zone already with a 7-0 lead. Two plays later, Kane Patterson (75 total yards) punched it in from 5 yards out to permanently put the Lions ahead by double digits.
If there was a positive takeaway from the Panthers’ overall night, it came from Brogan Wilson. The senior running back amassed 171 yards of total offense for FRA—who only had 239 total as a team—and also provided the squad’s lone touchdown of the night, a 1-yard run late in the 4th quarter.
“The one thing I can always say about this team, they fight to the end no matter the circumstance,” Whittemore said of his squad, particularly fond of the lengthy fourth quarter drive leading to Brogan’s score. “We did that tonight, never losing sight even when falling behind. We just have to do it more often throughout the night and not just in spots.”
Despite the loss, FRA (6-4/2-2 region) still manages an opening round home game, as they host Knoxville Grace (5-5) on November 2.
A lack of sustained focus was never of concern for the Lions, whose perfect season came about by never taking a single moment for granted. Even when up 31-3 late in the third quarter, news pouring in of their girls soccer counterparts capping their own perfect season by winning the state championships only further fueled the team and their supporters.
“It’s very encouraging throughout the entire CPA community,” Henderson said of his team’s success as well as that of the Lady Lions’ soccer championship. “To hear those results coming in during our game, it pumped us up even more.”
Now armed with a 10-0 season and home field advantage throughout the Division II-AA playoffs, the Lions have all the more reason to remain motivated.
“It means everything, to play in this stadium and to control our own destiny is huge,” says Martin of the Lions’ playoff run, which begins November 2 in a home game versus University School of Jackson (4-5).
“We made a few mental errors in the second half tonight, but those are things we will review on game film and correct moving forward, beginning with next week’s game versus USJ.”