It’s a championship feeling for Cougars
LITHIA SPRINGS – They weren’t leaving without the trophy.
The Lafayette Christian School Cougars headed into Friday’s state-championship game against Central Christian confident they would be the team celebrating at the end, and they were right.
The Cougars took over the game in the fourth quarter, and they ended up rolling to a 41-30 victory to claim the school’s first state title in football.
Central Christian came into the game unbeaten, and one of those victories came against Lafayette Christian in overtime, but it was overmatched Friday night.
The Cougars dominated the game in every area, and they left no doubt about the identity of the best eight-man football team in the Georgia Independent Christian Athletic Association.
“After playing them once, we knew what we had to do,” said senior Sam Marshall. “In the locker room, the coach said, if you do your job, if everybody does their assignment, then we’re going to walk away with the win. That’s really all we did. Everybody played their game, everybody did their assignments. Yeah, there were little (mistakes) here and there, but it was everybody getting down, getting dirty, and getting physical.”
Lafayette Christian head coach Nate Shaw felt his team had a chance to control the line of scrimmage after reviewing his team’s performance in the earlier loss to Central Christian.
“We’ve been talking about that since we lost to them,” Shaw said. “When we went back and looked at the film, we really handled them up front, because we’re pretty athletic up front. We felt we had better speed on the offensive and defensive line, and I think that really paid off tonight.”
Central Christian has an elite quarterback in Jared Farlow, and the senior made his share of plays during Friday’s game, but he and the rest of his offense was unable to stand up against the constant barrage of pressure provided by Lafayette Christian’s defense.
“We thought we could whip them up front, and I think it just played out,” Shaw said. “That’s where the game is won.”
One of the players who helped Lafayette Christian’s defense control things was senior linebacker Eli Shepherd, who in February will likely become the first athlete from the school to sign a football scholarship.
“We talked about physicality,” Shepherd said. “If we had a lot of physicality early, then we’d be able to stop them. We’re a more physical team. It was time to take it out on the field.”
Shepherd, who scored two rushing touchdowns from his fullback position, said the defensive game plan centered on trying to slow down Farlow.
“All through practice this week, coach preached to stop (Farlow),” Shepherd said. “He’s the main weapon on offense. I think we came out and just wanted to execute. It distracted their offense. And the result was on the scoreboard.”
Shepherd was a part of a senior class that enjoyed tremendous success at Lafayette Christian.
Those players helped the Cougars reach the state semifinals in 2013 and 2014 before winning it all this year.
“It feels great,” Shepherd said of finishing his career with a state title. “My mission has been completed. Coming in to camp, I said my mission was to win state. That was my main goal, and it’s very special to complete that on this field.”
A year ago, Lafayette Christian’s season ended with a blowout loss in the semifinals, which made the title even more satisfying.
“Especially looking at last year, and having a terrible last game, to end up with this, that’s something special,” Marshall said. “That’s something you can ho back and tell your kids.”
Central Christian came into the game unbeaten and looking to win a second straight title title, and it got within three points after scoring a touchdown late in the third quarter.
Central Christian then forced a punt to get the ball back with a chance to take the lead with a touchdown.
The Crusaders got what appeared to be a big break when the Cougars were called for a facemask penalty after making a tackle in the end zone for a safety.
Central Christian drove into Lafayette Christian territory before a fourth-down play failed.
The Cougars took over with a little more than 10 minutes to play in the game, and they didn’t look back.
The Cougars went 55 yards in 10 plays, with Shepherd scoring on a 1-yard run.
Morgan Channell’s extra point gave the Cougars a 34-24 lead with 5:45 to play.
The Crusaders still had hope, but it was about to be extinguished.
The Crusaders picked up a first down on their ensuing possession, but on a second-down play from their own 28-yard line, Farlow was under pressure, and he threw a pass that was intercepted by Jemi Reed.
Reed, who had a pick six earlier in the game, returned the ball to the Crusaders’ 9-yard line.
On third down, Antaveis Sands scored on a 5-yard run, and the Cougars led 41-24 with 1:58 to play.
The Crusaders scored on their ensuing possession, but the outcome had already been decided.
The Cougars were champions.
“We had more edge tonight,” Shaw said. “We played with a chip on our shoulder, and I think that played out.”
Lafayette Christian’s offense, which was unstoppable in the playoffs, had it rolling Friday night after a slow start.
The Cougars were stopped on their first two possessions, but the game was tied 6-6 thanks to Reed’s interception return for a score in the first quarter.
The Cougars scored their first offensive touchdown when they went 61 yards in eight plays in the second quarter.
The big play on the drive was a 22-yard run by Shepherd on a fake-punt attempt.
Two plays later, freshman quarterback Landon Whitley scored on a 13-yard run, and the Cougars led 12-6.
Whitley, who took over at quarterback earlier in the season, did a terrific job of leading the offense Friday night.
“I can’t say enough the job he did to handle things we called upon him to do,” Lafayette Christian offensive coordinator Glenn Quiggle said. “He’s a very steady customer, and he made some plays when we needed him to make plays.”
Later in the second quarter, the Cougars took over at the Crusaders’19-yard line after they were stopped a fourth-down play.
Shepherd capped that short drive with a 2-yard touchdown, and Shepherd also had the two-point conversion run to give the Cougars a 20-12 lead.
The Crusaders made it to the Cougars’ 4-yard line when they got the ball back, but Jacob Lueken got pressure on Farlow to force an incompletion as the half ended.
On the first three possessions of the third quarter, the teams traded touchdowns.
On the Cougars’ third-quarter scoring drive, they went 45 yards for the touchdown, with Sands scoring on a 5-yard run.
Whitley had some big runs on that drive, including a tough 1-yard run for a fourth-down conversion.
After the Crusaders came back for a touchdown with 1:51 left in the third quarter to make it a three-point game, it was time for the Cougars to seize control.
They chewed up more than four minutes to score a touchdown to go up by 10, and they scored again following Reed’s second interception, and that was that.
The Cougars had their share of miscues in the game, but it was a championship peformance.
“We had a couple of mistakes, but then again, everybody stayed as a team, and did what we had to do, and we won a championship,” Sands said. “It feels great.”