The Christ Presbyterian Academy Lions’ 2019 football season ended just short of the ultimate goal.
The team lost 17-14 to the Evangelical Christian School Eagles in the TSSAA BlueCross Bowl Division II-AA state championship game Thursday afternoon at Tennessee Tech's football stadium.
The game mirrored CPA’s season at times, as the Lions battled back from two separate deficits, but were unable to hold off the Eagles offense on a pivotal fourth quarter drive as they came three points short of winning their second-consecutive state championship.
“I have a group of kids that give everything. That’s all we can ask,” CPA head coach Ingle Martin said. “Win or lose, this team is a remarkable group for their courage. I don’t know of many other groups that would’ve stayed together and believed. ECS, that’s a really good football team. That’s easily one of the 10 best teams in the state. This was a great football game.”
CPA (7-7) started the year with an 0-4 record but bounced back to secure a regular season region championship, home field advantage throughout the playoffs and were three points away from being the first ever six-loss team to win a state championship in Tennessee.
The season started with a 24-point loss against ECS but ended with a vastly more competitive contest.
ECS (13-1) got the scoring started with the help of a 37-yard pass from Jacob Hatcher to Carson Gagnon, but the CPA defense then forced the Eagles into a 40-yard field goal by Evan Stookey. The kick gave the Eagles a 3-0 lead with 6:28 remaining in the first quarter.
Sophomore quarterback Cade Law then gave the Lions their first lead of the game three plays later when he took a QB keeper, spun his way out of a tackle at the line of scrimmage and sprinted away from the defense on a 60-yard touchdown rush. Mac Seibert’s PAT gave CPA a 7-3 lead.
“The o-line blocked great. I saw the hole and I hit it like I’m taught to do,” Law said on his run. “The rest took care of itself.”
The Eagles then marched down the field on a four-play, 79-yard drive that was capped by a 17-yard TD rush by Jaylen Greenwood. The PAT gave the Eagles a 10-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Lions capitalized on an interception by Sam Ellis when Law found senior tight end Josh Roper down the seam on a play-action pass for a 21-yard touchdown. Seibert’s extra-point gave the Lions a 14-10 lead with 7:26 remaining in the first half.
“They’ve been doing it all year,” Martin said on his team’s resiliency when trailing. “We’re so proud of them. We talked all year we’re not defined by our wins, we’re not defined by our loses. These kids gave everything they had. That’s what they’re defined by.”
The defenses dominated the third quarter, with the teams mustering a combined 42 yards in the frame. CPA took a 14-10 lead into the final quarter of the season.
The Eagles then took the lead for the first time since early in the second quarter when they marched down the field on an 11-play, 67-yard drive that was aided by big plays and penalty calls going against the Lions.
The drive was capped by a one-yard touchdown rush by Jacob Hatcher that gave the Eagles a 17-14 lead with 6:05 remaining in the game.
A comeback effort by the lions fell short as the Eagles forced four straight incompletions in the final minute to secure the 17-14 win.
“We fought all year,” Law said. “When we were 0-4 our team stuck together and that shows how strong of a team we are. Tonight, we just came a little short.”
Law said the expectation for his team was to develop as young men, but also to win the state title.
“We never really talk about winning,” Law said. “Coach Martin and his staff want to develop us as young men and we want to play some football too. We thought we were going to win it all this year.”
Martin kept everything in perspective after the hard-fought loss.
“I’m blessed to be coaching at CPA,” Martin said. “We’ve got great kids, a great staff and I’m really thankful.”
The game marked the Lions seventh all-time appearance in a state championship game and their fifth trip since 2013.