CHATTANOOGA -- A state title seemed light years away when coach Trent Dilfer arrived at Lipscomb Academy in 2019.
“You mean when I cried the first time I watched the film,” Dilfer said. “I called my OC (offensive coordinator) and I said we’re never going to get a first down. Literally, we’ll never in our entire time there get a first down.”
Dilfer inherited a team that had gone 3-19 in the two seasons before his arrival, but the former NFL quarterback turned them into state champions in only three years.
Lipscomb completed its journey with a Division II-AA championship after blanking Christ Presbyterian Academy 27-0 at Finley Stadium on Thursday.
That gave the Mustangs (12-1) their first state title since 2007.
It took only 15 first downs to do it, and another dominating performance from the Mustangs defense, which shut out the Lions (11-3) twice this season.
“Our starting defense hasn’t given up a point since Oakland,” said Dilfer, referring to Lipscomb’s only loss 10 weeks ago. “We’re by far the best defense in Tennessee. It’s not close. They proved it again today.”
The Mustangs also shut out CPA 38-0 back in October during the regular season.
CPA entered the game with a 34.8 scoring average, including a season-high 56 points in a semifinal win at Lausanne last week.
Sophomore linebacker Edwin Spillman led the way with a team-high 6.5 tackles and three sacks.
“Our coaches, they spent weeks preparing for this game,” Mustangs linebacker Koa Naotala said. “We’ve been preparing for this day since Dec. 4, right after the (loss to CPA in last year’s final.)”
The Lions rushed for 424 yards against the Mustangs in the 2020 state final, but Lipscomb held CPA to 133 in the rematch.
Lipscomb running back Alex Broome earned MVP honors after rushing for 137 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries.
The Boston College commit also caught five passes for 23 yards.
“I think it’s just good for, really, the community as a whole that we’ve gotten back to dominance, I think, and hopefully they can continue,” Broome said. “It’s a perfect way (to end my high school career). You get a state championship, MVP, obviously, but most important, state championship.”
Lipscomb quarterback Luther Richesson completed 17 of 19 passes for 147 yards and one TD with one interception.
“Everyone just came together at the right time,” said Richesson, a Cincinnati commit.
Dilfer gave Richesson a hug after the game.
“I love him like a son,” Dilfer said. “He’s the hardest working football player I’ve ever been around and that includes the 11 Hall of Famers I played with. This kid is made of all the right stuff.”
Dilfer said Richesson and Broome are revered by their teammates and coaches.
Broome’s 7-yard TD run early in the first quarter and Nathan Spillman’s 55-yard TD reception from Richesson with six seconds left in the second quarter gave the Mustangs a 13-0 halftime lead.
Broome scored gain on a 4-yard run to increase Lipscomb’s lead to 20-0 late in the third quarter and Maureice Sherrill finished the scoring with a 12-yard TD run with 2:25 remining.
“All of our big plays seem to be brought back,” CPA coach Ingle Martin said. “There wasn’t a whole lot of margin for error with the way their defense is put together. They’ve got great players everywhere.”
CPA’s seniors made it to the state finals four times, finishing second twice and winning two championships.
“We ask them to leave it better than they found it and they did that, so we’re going to be forever indebted to this group of seniors,” Martin said.
The Lions drove to the Mustangs 28 in the second quarter, but defensive back Kaleb Beasley ended the drive when he intercepted Cade Law’s pass at the Lipscomb 19 and returned it to the 21.
CPA drove to the Lipscomb 31 late in the second quarter, but the drive ended on a fumbled quarterback-center exchange recovered by Bryan Longwell.
The Lions’ best scoring chance came in the third quarter when Law threw a 27-yard pass to Bo Burklow to the Mustangs 4, but it was nullified by a holding penalty on right tackle Preston Slover.
CPA drove to the Lipscomb 21 in the fourth quarter, but the drive stalled and the Lions lost the ball on downs.
“They have big dudes up front and they got some penetration,” Law said. “DBs are really good, really fast. They just played a solid game. We hate losing, but we’re just glad we got to be out there with everyone.”
Tailback Langston Patterson led the Lions with 105 rushing yards on 13 carries, more than half of it coming on a 55-yard run to the Lipscomb 31 late in the second quarter.
He also led the Lions with eight tackles at linebacker.
“They maximized our mistakes – that’s what they’re really good at,” said Patterson, a Vanderbilt commit. “We made a couple key turnovers and penalties and that’s what we couldn’t come into the game doing if we wanted to keep our drives alive.”
The runner-up finish still hurt.
“Ricky Bobby says it best: If you’re not first, your last,” Patterson said of the Will Ferrell auto racing character from Talladega Nights. “We don’t play for the runner-up trophy. You’ll never see that silver ball, but they were the better team today. But I love this team.”
His older brother, Kane, a Clemson linebacker, entered the transfer portal Monday.
It would be a big catch for Vanderbilt if he winds up with Langston on West End.
“I hope so,” Langston said. “It’s been our life-long dream to play beside each other and do this, not lose, but finish. There’s nobody that pushes you better than your brother. Vandy program has got a long way to go, but it’s gonna start there pushing each other and holding each other accountable and just go at it from the bottom up.”
The spotlight was brightest on Broome, Richesson and Dilfer, but it took contributions from everyone on the Granny White Pike campus to earn the state title, the school's first since the days of legendary Lipscomb coach Glenn McCadams.
“It took everybody,” said Dilfer, a former Super Bowl MVP with Baltimore. “Everybody looks at the football team, but you have to have an entire community buying in, sacrificing, doing things that are uncomfortable, being counter-cultural.
“Right now, our whole country wants to do whatever’s easy and our kids have said, no, we want to do whatever’s hard because it’s going to make us better and this is affirmation of that.”