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Sensational season ends with a title

Lafayette Christian claims state championship

By Kevin Eckleberry

keckleberry@civitasmedia.com

The Lafayette Christian School Cougars won the GICAA state championship. Contributed photo
http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/web1_cougars11.jpgThe Lafayette Christian School Cougars won the GICAA state championship. Contributed photo

LITHIA SPRINGS – They’re the champs.

The Lafayette Christian School Cougars used a dominant effort on both sides of the ball to beat the Central-Christian Crusaders 41-30 on Friday night in the Georgia Independent Christian Athletic Association eight-man state playoffs.

After falling short in the state semifinals the previous two years, the Cougars broke through for their first state title in the eight-year history of the football program.

The Crusaders scored a touchdown late in the third quarter to get within three, but the Cougars strung together two unanswered touchdowns in the fourth quarter to put the game away.

Central-Christian, which was looking to complete an unbeaten season and win a second straight state title, scored with less than a minute remaining to get within 11, but Lafayette Christian recovered the onside kick and ran one kneel-down play to end it.

The Cougars fell to 3-3 with an overtime loss to Central-Christian in a region game earlier this season, but they ended the season on a seven-game winning streak.

“I’m incredibly proud,” Lafayette Christian head coach Nate Shaw said. “There was a point in the season when we were 3-3. I’m questioning myself, and the coaches are questioning themselves. We knew we might not even make the playoffs, especially with our region. The bottom team in our region ended up 7-3. So we’ve been in playoff mode since then.”

As for the title game, Shaw said his team “played with an edge,” and that was evident.

For Central, it was a disappointing ending to a remarkable two years of football.

The Crusaders won a state championship in an Alabama-based league a year ago, and they were one victory away from back-to-back titles.

“I spoke to them a little bit afterward,” Central head coach Paul Frantz said. “Obviously there are emotions and tears and everything, but I wanted to make sure they understood to be proud of what they did.”

When quarterback Jared Farlow threw a 63-yard touchdown pass to Colt Dooley, the Crusaders were within three with 1:51 left in the third quarter.

After forcing a punt, Central Christian got the ball back with a chance to take the lead with a touchdown.

Instead, the Crusaders turned the ball over on downs, and the Cougars took over at midfield.

The Cougars then went on a 10-play, 40-yard drive that ended with an Eli Shepherd touchdown run with 5:26 left in the game, and Morgan Channell’s extra point put the Crusaders in a 34-24 hole.

Lafayette Christian’s defense then came through with a big play.

Jemi Reed, who earlier in the game had an interception return for a touchdown, came up with his second pick of the night, and he returned the ball to the Crusaders’ 9-yard line.

Three plays later, Antaveis Sands scored on a 5-yard run, and Channell made the extra point to give the Cougars a 41-24 cushion with 1:58 to play.

The Crusaders answered with a 65-yard touchdown drive that was capped by a Bailey Todd 3-yard touchdown run, but there were only 21 seconds left.

The Crusaders were in control early.

On the Crusaders’ first offensive possession, Farlow found Dooley for a 32-yard touchdown pass to put the Cougars in a 6-0 hole.

After forcing a Lafayette Christian punt, Central Christian was driving again when Reed delivered one of the biggest plays of the game.

Reed picked off a Farlow pass in the end zone, and he went 80 yards for the touchdown, and the game was tied 6-6 with 1:05 left in the first quarter.

The Cougars took their first lead in the second quarter when Landon Whitley’s 13-yard scoring run capped a 61-yard drive, and it was a 12-6 game with 7:59 left in the half.

It took the Crusaders two plays to tie it

Farlow completed a 57-yard pass to Bailey, and on the next play, Farlow’s 8-yard run pulled the Crusaders even at 12-12.

The Cougars reclaimed the lead, with Shepherd scoring on a 2-yard run, and the senior fullback also ran in the two-point conversion attempt to give his team a 20-12 lead with 1:28 left in the second quarter, and that was the score at the half.

The Crusaders got within two early in the third quarter on a Farlow 10-yard scoring run, and the Cougars maintained a 20-18 lead after stopping the two-point try.

The Cougars answered with a Sands 10-yard touchdown run to cap a 55-yard drive, and Channell made the extra point to make it a 27-18 game with 4:43 to play in the third quarter.

The Crusaders came right back with the big pass play from Farlow to Dooley, and it was a three-point game, but from that point, the Cougars were in control.

“It’s a team full of brothers,” Reed said. “Everybody rallied together. We all had one dream, and we accomplished it.”

OF NOTE: For full coverage of Friday’s games, including photos and stories, see Monday’s sports section and go to www.lagrangenews.com