STORY BY CORY WOODROOF | PHOTOS BY KENDYL SEALS
Zeroes have been quite friendly to the Christ Presbyterian Academy Lions this season.
The team has that number in its loss column to close the year and held Battle Ground Academy’s prolific offense to that number in the first half en route to claim a D-II AA state championship Friday afternoon at Tennessee Tech’s Tucker Stadium.
The win caps a perfect 14-0 season for the Lions.
For 2018, zeroes are a Lion’s best friend.
CPA will return to Nashville with new hats and a trophy, with their 41-21 win over region rival BGA.
“It feels amazing,” Lions wideout Noah Henderson said about the victory. “It’s a dream come true to end the whole high school career this way: a perfect season and a state championship.”
What moment will stick with Henderson about the win after everything’s said and done?
“Probably just that clock running out, knowing that we did it.”
At the end, a clock that said 0:00.
“It’s indescribable,” Patterson said of walking away with a state title. “It’s what I’ve wanted since my freshman year.
“I’m just super thankful to end this way.”
This is the second title for head coach Ingle Martin’s tenure at the helm (the first in 2014) and the school’s fourth overall (the others coming in 2000, 2002).
The winning coach spoke about what his team did right to walk away with the hardware.
“Our group continued to improve all year, and as a coach, that’s what you want,” Martin said of the season. “For us, our seniors, Coach [Ryan] Taylor had a great plan on defense. Our defensive coaches did a great job in the first half. We gave up a few in the second half, but the biggest thing is our guys came out and executed.
“Give all the credit to our boys. They played hard, man, and this was a great way to end it.”
RB Kane Patterson’s 125 total yards and two touchdowns, RB Andrew Madden’s 135 rushing yards and TE Bryce McCormick’s 2 TDs in the air, along with steady play from QB Ryan Eledge (152 yards, 3TDs), helped the team jump out to a commanding lead the Wildcats before the break.
From there, the Wildcats tried their best to overcome the difficult deficit but were unable to scale the heights for the comeback.
“It was just a total team effort,” Martin said. “Each one of them [gave] something different to the group, and I think that’s what makes a group special.”
In the first, the Lions pounced on the early lead with big 44-yard completion to WR Noah Henderson and a short Patterson touchdown run. The Lions got a little scare when the Clemson Commit was slow to get up after the score, but he returned shortly after.
“That definitely felt great,” Henderson said of the tone-setting catch. “[Eledge and I] are used to making those plays.”
CPA kept its foot on the gas from there, clearing 14 points to midway through the second quarter. No. 17, McCormick, went for 17 yards and the touchdown in an end zone throw by Eledge, the QB’s first of three in the first half. It was Madden whose long rumble down to the end zone from Lions territory set up that score.
McCormick hauled in a second score on an 11-yard throw from Eledge with about two minutes before half, and then a short throw to wideout Dean Cooper to get the 28-0 lead right before the final second ticked out.
Two first-half picks from John Michael Ritchie and Andrew Whitely and stout run defense helped the Lions defense hold down the Wildcats’ typically hard-to-contain offensive arsenal.
In the second half, CPA focused on the ground game to sand down the clock.
The Wildcats showed signs of life when QB Nick Semptimphelter threw a pass to WR Tiy Reed that went 84 yards for a score, but Patterson matched it with a 52-yard sprint to the end zone to get CPA ahead 34-7.
A strike to Garnett Hollis got the Wildcats to 14 with 8:48 left, but then CPA would respond once more (40-yard TD run for Whitely), putting the game at a hard-to-overcome 41-14 difference.
Chico Bennett ran in a long touchdown with about two minutes left to get within 20, 41-21, but that would hold as the final score.
Soon after, hats would be placed on happy, sweaty heads, big smiles would add to the bright lights from the overhead display and the Lions would complete their perfect season with a state title.
It’s a meaningful moment for Eledge and so many other Lions, lifelong companions who have come through the grade school together in the classroom and on the football field.
“These are my best friends since middle school when I came here,” the quarterback said.
So at what moment did Eledge know that his team was going to walk away victorious?
“Not until probably about a minute left,” he said with a laugh. “These guys [BGA], they can score a lot of points really quick.”
Martin was also fast to compliment the opponent.
“[BGA] is a really good football team,” he said. “Coach [Roc] Batten does a great job. He’s got a great group of seniors; [they’re] a very talented football team. Can’t say enough about them.”
The Lions came up short in a 2015 state game and in two-straight semifinals games, so the win comes with a lot of time, effort and hope invested in it for CPA.
“It just shows are our hard work paid off,” Henderson said. “It’s great to get a reward for that, and finish strong, and finish how we do. It’s awesome.”
For Martin, the big win answers a hope of his for all of his teams.
“Our goal every year is to have our boys play to their best ability,” Martin said of his Lions. “Obviously, they did that this year, and really, as a coach, whatever the last game is, whether it’s Week 10 or Week 14 or 15, if the boys gave you everything, you can’t ask for anything more.
“And, we’ve been extremely blessed for eight years. We have not gotten to the last game of the year, and said ‘man, I wish we could’ve gotten something more. So, for eight years, all of our teams have given us everything, and that’s all you can ask for as a coach.”
Eledge had high praise for his coach.
“I’ve learned a lot more about life than football; I’ve learned a lot about both,” Eledge said about being in Martin’s Lions program. “He’s probably my best friend. He’s great. He’s my favorite coach I’ve ever played for, outside of my dad.”
— WillCo Sports (@WillCoSports) December 1, 2018
Patterson named game MVP
For his strong performance on both sides of the ball, Patterson was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
“It’s awesome,” Patterson said of the honor, though he gave the credit for his big night to the self-named “Hogs” of the team’s trenches.
“It’s incredible, what they did for us tonight, the [offensive and defensive] lines,” he said. “They just dominated up front…they made it super easy for us in the backfield and in linebacker on the defense.”
Batten reflects on game gone by
The BGA Wildcats will be runners-up for the 2018 D-II AA state title.
Head coach Roc Batten said he was disappointed in the outcome, but still complimented his team’s effort in the second half.
“That first half, we dug ourselves a hole and put ourselves in a bind a little bit,” Batten said. “When you play a team that talented…you can’t put yourself in that type of situation. They just executed better than we did, I’ll be honest.”
Though, his team didn’t stop fighting, which was Batten’s message at halftime.
“We weren’t going to lay down; we weren’t going to give up,” he said. “That’s not who we are as a school, not who we are as a program. We’ve just got really good junior and senior leaders who kept trying to compete. We’re going to play to the last whistle.”
Batten complimented his 15 departing seniors and spoke on what’s ahead for the team, who completes quite a strong season.
“We’ve got a good group of juniors coming back, and sophomores, and we talked about [after the game], ‘Hey, we’ve got a lot of work to do to get back here. We’ve got to raise the bar.’ It’s not easy getting here. [The Wildcats] have a good core coming back.
“Right now, I’m going to just celebrate these seniors, the season and the things they accomplished when lot of people didn’t think we could accomplish this. And, as disappointed as we are, to be one of the last two teams in Division II playing on the November 30th is special, and I’m proud of these guys.”