Cougars eye spot in title game

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 20, 2015

Big-time road test for Lafayette Christian

By Kevin Eckleberry

The Lafayette Christian School Cougars will play Praise Academy today in the semifinals of the state playoffs. Kevin Eckleberry | Daily News Lafayette Christian School Cougars will play Praise Academy today in the semifinals of the state playoffs. Kevin Eckleberry | Daily News

LAGRANGE – They’ve been here before.

In the 2013 and 2014 seasons, the Lafayette Christian School Cougars reached the semifinals of the Georgia Independent Christian Athletic Association eight-man state football playoffs.

They fell short both years, but today, they’ll get another chance to clear that hurdle.

Praise Academy will host Lafayette Christian at 7:30 p.m. today, and a berth in the GICAA state-championship game will be on the line.

This will be the second time the two teams have played this season.

On Sept. 18, Lafayette Christian hosted Praise Academy.

The Cougars surged to an 18-0 lead on homecoming night, but they ended up losing 40-18.

It was one of those nights where anything that could go wrong, did go wrong.

Senior lineman Levi McCurry said the key tonight will be avoiding the sort of miscues that proved so costly in the earlier meeting.

“I think just not making small mistakes like we did last time with them will be big,” McCurry said. “We had a good lead on them, and we just had a bunch of small mistakes, and that cost us our lead.”

McCurry is part of a 10-man senior class that has accomplished a great deal over the years.

In 2013, the Cougars won their first ever playoff game, and they reached the semifinals where they lost a close one.

A year ago, Lafayette Christian set a school record for wins in a season while making it back to the final four.

Now, those seniors will try to add to their already impressive resume by making it to the state-championship game for the first time.

Senior Lane Brooks, a safety and wide receiver, said the key will be to “just show up and play like we know we can.”

“Last time we played them, we were beating them 18-0, and then they had some weird play and scored, and then recovered an onside kick and scored again, and it was 18-12 at halftime,” Brooks added.

As for the rematch, Brooks said “we’re pretty confident. If we show up and play, we’ll win the game.”

In the earlier game, senior Anteveis Sands had two touchdown runs in the first quarter to give the Cougars a 12-0 lead, and a touchdown pass from Sam Marshall to Brooks in the second quarter pushed the lead to 18-0.

The Cougars had a chance to put the game away at that point, but they couldn’t do it.

“We couldn’t step on their throat,” Lafayette Christian head coach Nate Shaw said.

The following week, Lafayette Christian fell to Central Christian for its third consecutive loss.

Since then, the Cougars have won four straight games, including a 61-14 victory over Shiloh Hills in the state-playoff opener a week ago.

The Cougars have it all working.

Offensively, freshman Landon Whitley has gotten better each week as the quarterback, and Sands and fellow senior Jemi Reed team up to give the Cougars a potent one-two combination at running back.

Lafayette Christian’s defense, led by linebacker Eli Shephard, has been strong as well.

Among the seniors on the team is Sam Marshall, a multi-sport standout who has been attending Lafayette Christian School since he was in the sixth grade.

He didn’t play football in the eighth grade and ninth grade, but he returned for his 10th-grade season, just in time to help the Cougars make their first semifinal appearance.

Marshall began this season as the Cougars’ quarterback before injuring his ankle, and now he’s a tight end and defensive lineman.

Marshall had never played on the defensive line before this season, so he’s sort of been learning on the go.

“I’m still learning,” Marshall said. “They just kind of threw me in there a few weeks ago. I’m trying to take tips from Levi (McCurry).”

Praise Academy has a high-powered offense that can score points in bunches, as it showed in the earlier game against Lafayette Christian.

Marshall said a key for the defense will be limiting the damage.

“We know they’re going to score, we know they’re going to make some big plays here and there,” Marshall said. “Last time, they just started rolling, and we couldn’t stop it. We can’t do that again.”

Brooks said it comes down to something fairly basic on defense.

“One thing that I didn’t do too well in the last game was, I didn’t tackle well,” Brooks said. “If we actually tackle people, we should win the game.”

Lafayette Christian School’s offense has been putting up big numbers all season.

Part of the reason for that is the presence of Sands, who transferred to Lafayette Christian from Dawson Street Christian School for his senior season.

Sands, who’d never played eight-man football before this season, needed some time to adjust.

“I had to get use to it,” Sands said. “I came from 11-man.”

Sands has settled in nicely and has been a big part of the offensive attack, and he’s confident he and his teammates can get it done tonight.

“We feel we can come out with the win (today) and play for a championship,” Sands said. “If we come out with a good start, we know we can get the win.”

As for the offense, Sands said if the offensive linemen do their typical stellar job, “we feel like we’re going to score touchdowns.”

McCurry said he and his teammates on the offensive line will do their best to make sure Sands and Reed have some big holes to run through.

“I think that’s going to be very important,” McCurry said of controlling the line of scrimmage. “If we can get our blocks, we can get the touchdowns.”

If Lafayette Christian wins today, it would play either Harvester Christian or Central Christian for the state title on Nov. 27 at Colonial Hills Christian School in Lithia Springs.

Reach Kevin Eckleberry at (706) 884-7311 or on Twitter @lagrangesports