The finest season in the history of the Lafayette Christian School football program ended in the semifinals of the state playoffs.
The Cougars, hoping to secure a spot in the Independent Christian Schools of Georgia and Alabama eight-man football championship game, fought Harvester Christian to the wire in the semifinals, but in the end they came up a few points short.
The Cougars had the ball twice in the closing minutes with a chance to drive for the go-ahead score, but they were unable to make it happen, and Harvester hung on for a 29-24 victory.
‘I’m really, really proud of our kids,” Lafayette Christian School Nick Nehring said. “They played really tough. What can you say. I’m happy we had a chance at the end.”
Harvester scored a touchdown with a little more than seven minutes remaining to take a 29-24 lead.
The Cougars couldn’t get anything going on their ensuing possession, and they punted the ball.
The Cougars nearly got a big break when Graham Oliver forced a fumble, but a Harvester played landed on the ball.
Harvester eventually punted, and the Cougars got the ball for the final time with about a minute left, but they were unable to move the ball.
“We had a chance to make something happen at the end, but we just couldn’t quite get anything going,” Nehring said.
Still, while the Cougars would have loved to have made it to the championship game, it was a special season for the team.
The season was highlighted by a thrilling 39-38 win over Praise Academy that gave Lafayette Christian the first playoff victory in school history.
The Cougars were trailing late, but they drove down the field and scored a touchdown and converted the extra point to take the lead.
The Cougars then made a defensive stand as time ran out to preserve the victory.
“It was our biggest step we’ve ever made,” said junior quarterback Matt Brown. “We’ve never won a playoff game. It was big.”
After Grace scored a touchdown and converted the two-point conversion, the Cougars found themselves in a 38-32 hole with a little more than seven minutes remaining.
The Cougars were pinned deep in their own territory when Brown completed a long pass to Sam Marshall.
That play came with the Cougars facing a second-and-30.
“I was just hoping I could throw it good, and I was hoping he could catch one,” Brown said.
That play set up a Brown touchdown run, and Jeremy Fain made the all-important extra point to put the Cougars on top by one.
With 1:43 still on the clock, Praise had plenty of time to work with.
Praise moved the ball down the field, and with less than 10 seconds remaining, it found itself on the Lafayette Christian 6-yard line.
Praise went with a running play, and when the running back was stopped at the 2-yard line, the clock ran out, and the Cougars had the win.
“They called their last timeout, and they ran it off-tackle, and coach (Nate) Shaw made a good adjustment,” Nehring said. “And the guys stepped up and made the play. Matt (Brown) was there, and Graham Oliver our other linebacker stepped up, and they both just brought him down at the 2-yard line.”
The team was led by a strong quartet of seniors, Jeremy Fain, Jack Evert, Trey Kirkland and Ethan Pike.
Pike said it was a special season for the four seniors.
“It’s probably been my favorite season,” Pike said. “Me, Trey and Jack have played together since middle school when we were 6-0, undefeated.”
It was another banner season for the Lafayettte Christian boys’ team.
The Cougars won a second consecutive region championship, and after making it to the final four of the state tournament in 2013, they were in the quarterfinals last season.
The Cougars, after claiming the Region 4-A title, actually had a first-round bye in the state tournament, and they lost to First Presbyterian 7-1 in the second round.
Lafayette Christian’s girls’ team, after losing a huge group of seniors from the 2013 team that won a region championship and advanced to the second round of state, was ineligible to play for a region title this year because it used some home-schooled players this season.
“It was a tough season,” coach Shannon Powell said. “It’s tough when you lose seven players from the varsity squad, and half the team are eighth-graders. If they all come back, we have great potential the next few years.”
The Lafayette Christian School girls’ team finished third in the Region 4-A tournament to earn an invitation to the state tournament, and the Lady Cougars fell short in the first round.
The Lafayette Christian boys’ team, meanwhile, was unable to make it through to the state tournament after losing to Solid Rock 53-49 in the region tournament.
The Cougars lost the game despite a school-record 35-point effort from David Curry, who capped a terrific high-school career with a big game.
Curry also set a school record for points in a season, and head coach Rene Gomez said he provided “four years of great, solid basketball. He really took the leadership role this year.”
The Cougars had plenty of big wins during the season, but they were unable to make it through to the state tournament after finishing fifth in GISA Region 3-AA.
One of the team’s top players was Miranda Powell, who had seven kills, 12 digs and five aces in a late-season win over a Ballard team that was 9-0 at the time.
Mary Mae Cole had 12 aces in that match.
It was a rebuilding year of sorts for the Lady Cougars, who lost a big group of seniors from a successful 2012 team.
“We have a lot of girls that are really young, and we’re trying to get them experience and at the same time be able to compete,” Gomez said during the season.