Christ Presbyterian Academy is hoping a better start in the rematch will lead to a better finish to the season.
CPA (10-1) faces Lipscomb Academy (10-2) in the Division II-AA championship at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville at 11 a.m. Thursday.
The Mustangs handed the Lions their only loss, 20-14, on Oct. 23.
Lipscomb set the tone early when Alex Broome returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown.
The Mr. Football semifinalist rushed for 99 yards on 22 carries. He has at least eight offers, including Michigan State, Harvard and Princeton. His dad, Arcentae, coaches Maplewood.
“We had a lot of little errors, turnovers and problems on the special teams that are getting fixed, so we’ll be ready this time,” CPA linebacker-running back Langston Patterson said.
CPA fumbled on the Lipscomb 1-yard line on its first possession, one of three turnovers on the night.
The Mustangs marched down the field to score another TD, increasing their lead to 14-0.
“It was hard when we dug ourselves in that kind of hole,” said Patterson, a junior who rushed for 108 yards and two TDs that night in a game that was delayed 2 hours by lightning.
Patterson (6-1, 215) is a Mr. Football finalist at inside linebacker, where he’s made 70 tackles, including 18 for a loss, in CPA’s 3-4 defense.
Patterson went to Clemson on Saturday to watch his older brother, Kane, play linebacker for the fourth-ranked Tigers in a 52-17 rout of Pitt.
“He almost got a fumble return for a touchdown, but he got tackled on, like, the inch-line,” Langston said of Kane’s 57-yard return. “He got tripped up on the 5 and dove for the end zone, but was an inch short. It was cool to watch him play really well and fun to see him afterward.”
Langston Patterson has 15 offers, including No. 2 Notre Dame, No. 10 Indiana, No. 14 Coastal Carolina (9-0), Tennessee and Vanderbilt.
Two more Patterson linebackers are on the way: seventh-grade twins Preston and Rawls.
“They’re probably better than me and my older brother,” Langston said.
Like nearly every team nationwide, CPA has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Lions had to cancel their game against Brentwood and reschedule the one versus Lipscomb when four CPA players tested positive for the virus and most of the others were exposed to those who had COVID.
CPA won its quarterfinal game over Chattanooga Christian with a COVID forfeit when the virus hit the Chargers.
“Right before we were about to play Brentwood we got popped and couldn’t play, and we were out for two weeks so we started wearing our masks at practice to delete the risk of that happening because that’s what got us at first,” Lions quarterback Cade Law said. “During the summer we were just split up into a lot of smaller groups.”
Law said it was hard to breathe during hot-afternoon practices with masks, but cooler weather has made it easier.
The Lions are averaging 49.7 points in their last three games out of their multiple offense. CPA likes to establish the run to open up the passing game.
“That loss to Lipscomb kind of set us straight, knowing that we’ve got to get better if we want to go to Cookeville and win another state championship,” Law said. “We don’t want that feeling going back on that bus ride like we did last year. We feel like we should have won that game.”
CPA finished as the state runner-up after a 17-14 loss to Evangelical Christian in 2019.
Law said CPA has been trying to “make the little things big things.”
Deep runs have almost become automatic under Lions coach Ingle Martin, who’s taken CPA to the semifinals or further during all 10 of his seasons at the school on Old Hickory Boulevard.
The former MBA, Florida, Furman and NFL quarterback has led CPA to two state titles, three runner-up showings, a 115-24 record and an 82.7 winning percentage.
Most of his assistant coaches have been with him at CPA for nine or 10 years.
“It really starts in our weight room and how we are stronger than every opponent we face,” Patterson said. “We can kind of push our way through even if we play a bad game.”
CPA has overcome the loss of receiver Maverick Rodriguez, a mid-major prospect who tore his ACL in a 36-0 win over Goodpasture on Oct. 16.
Three teams from the Middle Region made it to the semifinals: Goodpasture (9-3), Lipscomb and CPA, including two finalists.
“In 2018, we had us and BGA,” Martin said of the state championship won by a 14-0 Lions team that year. “I think the football in Middle Tennessee in our region is really good. That’s the biggest thing: I think our region prepared us for this playoff run.”
Lipscomb lost its first two games, including a 29-19 setback at tradition-rich Brentwood Academy, before rattling off 10 straight wins. Defensive lineman Sam Fisher has two pick-sixes.
Former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer inherited a 2-9 team when he was hired as Lipscomb’s coach in 2019.
The team improved rapidly, advancing to the semifinals last year when they lost 24-7 to CPA. Now, the Mustangs are one win from their first state title since 2007, the days of former Mustangs coach and preps legend Glenn McCadams.
Martin is reminding his players to be grateful for a complete season after the pandemic ended the basketball season in the state tournament and wiped out spring sports early on.
“I think the biggest thing is we’re just all thankful to still be playing,” Martin said.