Cougars hope to make history
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
They’re hoping to make history Friday night.
The Lafayette Christian School Cougars have accomplished plenty over the years, most notably in 2015 when they won the Georgia Independent Christian Athletic Association eight-man state championship.
The Cougars have never won a region title, though, and they’ll have a chance to change that this week.
Lafayette Christian will host Hancock Academy on Friday, and the winner will walk away with the GICAA Region 1-A championship.
Win or lose, the Cougars have already secured one of the region’s two spots in the 11-man state playoffs.
If the Cougars win, they’ll host a playoff game next week against the second-place team from Region 2-A.
If Lafayette Christian loses to Hancock Academy, it will be on the road for next week’s playoff game.
There will only be four teams in the state playoffs, so it’ll take two wins to capture a state championship.
First things first.
Lafayette Christian (5-4 overall) has won its first three region games against Central Fellowship, Georgia Christian and Fullington Academy.
Hancock Academy (2-7-1 overall) is 2-1 in the region with wins over Fullington Academy and Georgia Christian and a loss to Central Fellowship.
Leading the way for the Cougars are five seniors, including quarterback Landon Whitley, who has been starting since he was a freshman.
Whitley, in fact, was the quarterback when Lafayette Christian won the state title in 2015.
Now, Whitley will try to lead the Cougars to that break-through region title.
“I’m pretty pumped up,” Whitley said. “Lafayette’s never won a region before, so I’m excited. It’s a chance to be in the history books.”
Levi Spears, a senior defensive end, said
“it’s going to be pretty special” to play for a region title at home.
“I remember coming here as a little kid and seeing these seniors that I looked up to,” Spears said. “And now I’m here, and I think about all the little kids that’ll be looking up to me and all my teammates.”
Lafayette Christian improved to 3-0 in the region with a 34-0 victory over Fullington Academy on Oct. 19, and it was off last week.
It has been a bounce-back season for the Cougars, who went 3-7 last year.
Before that, the Cougars had reached the GICAA state semifinals four consecutive years.
“Last year we had a bunch of freshmen,” Whitley said. “Now they’re sophomores. They’ve got a little more experience. You can tell they’re starting to learn the game a little bit better. They’re getting the hang of it.”
Senior Mitch Crandall, a standout on offense and defense, has seen that transition as well.
“I’ve seen a lot of change from last year,” Crandall said. “Everybody’s learning their positions and getting better at what they’re doing.”
Crandall is a multi-year starter and a key contributor on the field, and he has also tried to be there for his younger and less experienced teammates.
“I try to be the best leader I can be out there,” Crandall said. “I try to help the younger guys with what they’re supposed to be doing.”
Gunner Lankford is a first-year player who has stepped in and become a key member of the offensive line.
“It’s technique and speed,” Lankford said of being an effective offensive lineman. “You have to get off the line quick, and get on them.”
Another senior, Lane Starling, had a three-interception performance during the win over Fullington two weeks ago.
“They were throwing the ball a lot, and I was trying to get after it,” Starling said. “It was coming right to me. I just did my best.”
Starling is a first-year player, and now he has a chance to be a member of a championship team.
“This is my first year playing with them, and I’ve never been on a winning team before,” Starling said. “So it’s real special for me to be on this team.”