Christ Presbyterian Academy had football history on its side Friday night.
But, it was Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish that made school history against the Lions.
Notre Dame won its first TSSAA playoff semifinal game and the impressive 42-20 Division II-2A victory over CPA gave the Irish their initial shot at a state championship.
“This is amazing,” Notre Dame defensive lineman Sam Stovall said.
“We knew we had a chance to do this, but in order to do that we had to trust the process, and we did. It translated into a great game tonight.”
After the teams exchanged handshakes, Irish coach Charles Fant burst into tears and started hugging anyone he could find. Players raised their arms, helmets in hand and back-slapped or bear-hugged near the north end zone at Jim Eberle Field.
The high school was founded in 1876, so this celebration was a long time in the planning.
“One hundred and forty-one years,” Fant said, his emotions getting the best of him. “It’s never happened at our school, but we did it at 2701 Vermont Avenue. I’m so proud of these kids, how hard they worked and we’ll finally get a chance to see what it looks like to go to Cookeville. I’m just so emotional right now. I’m just so thankful.”
The Irish (11-1) will face the Lausanne (12-0) on Dec. 2 at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville for the state championship. Game time will be 3 p.m. CT. Lausanne defeated Battleground Academy 42-21 in the other semifinal.
Lausanne, the defending state champion (last year it won the Division II-1A title), and has won 29 straight games. The Lynx’s last lost was a 42-10 setback against St. George’s in the 2015 state quarterfinals.
That was of little concern to the Irish in the minutes immediately after Friday’s game hit the record book.
“It’s the greatest feeling because it’s the first time for Notre Dame to go to state,” junior running back Cameron Wynn said. “I’m proud of my team, teammates, coaches, family and everybody.
“We’re going to try and win that championship and come back next year and do it again.”
Wynn, a Mr. Football finalist, was brilliant while rambling for five touchdowns on runs of 10, 22, 3, 42 and 1 yard and rushing for 238 yards on 25 carrries in a dismantling performance against a CPA defense that had given up only 14 points in two previous playoff games this postseason.
The Irish ran 60 rushing plays and gained 467 yards. They only threw four passes, completing two for 27 yards. Notre Dame finished with 694 total yards. Wynn's runningmate, Jeffrey Watkins, gained 103 yards on 13 carries for the Irish.
“The team kept pushing, the line kept blocking and I kept running,” Wynn said. “And the scoreboard kept changing.”
Only on the Irish side, though.
Three-time champion CPA, appearing in its seventh straight playoff semifinal, quietly left the field having gone scoreless in the game’s final 20 minutes and 8 seconds.
Wynn had two first-half scores, second capping a 93-yard, nine-play drive, but three fourth-quarter TDs was the Lions’ death knell.
CPA, which won state titles in 200, 2002 and 2014, still only trained 21-20 going into the final period and had a good chance to extend its six-game winning streak. In that streak, the Lions outscored their opponents 275-68.
However, Notre Dame was averaging 43 points in an 11-game win streak while the defense allowed just 14.7 points.
Fant so trusted his defense and offense, he gambled when facing a fourth-and-2 from the Irish’s 24 early in the third quarter with a one-point lead.
Wynn was stuffed and gained 1 yard.
A golden scoring opportunity just dropped out of the sky for the Lions, but they came up empty thanks to a holding penalty.
A 3-yard run by West on first-and-goal moved the ball to Notre Dame’s 6. Ryan Eledge-to-Sam West hookup was blown up by a holding penalty. On second-and-goal from the 22, Eledge found West for a touchdown strike, was wiped out by another holding penalty.
The Lions faced a second-and-goal at the Irish 36. Two players later, CPA punted.
“I think we had an outstanding defensive effort all night,” Stovall said. “We had a couple of letdowns, but overcame them. Our defensive backs told the guys up front they had our backs.”
Notre Dame finished a 50-yard, seven-play drive that started late in the third quarter with Wynn’s third touchdown that pushed the lead to 28-20 on the second play of the fourth period.
The Irish’s Monroe Beard snuffed out CPA’s next drive with an interception. The Irish quickly moved 50 yards in four plays with Wynn scampered 42 yards for his fourth TD midway through the fourth quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, CPA’s Noah Henderson raced to the Irish 6. On fourth-and-goal from the 13, Notre Dame sacked Eledge at the 20.
The Irish then ripped off an eight-play, 80-yard drive that was started with a 24 –yard gainer by Jeffery Watkins. Akil Sledge picked up 11 yards on the next play. Wynn capped off the game’s scoring with a short, quick-hitting 1-yard run.
“When we installed this offense, it allowed a kid like Cameron to have 10 guys blocking for him the entire night,” Fant said. “He’s a tremendous athlete, but he can’t make those runs without the big guys up front and the scheme.”
Well, everything was clicking for most of Friday’s game.
West ran 40 yards and Eledge hit Henderson on a 27-yard pass for the Lions’ first-quarter touchdowns. Henderson connected again in the second period, this time the play covered 15 yards with 8.4 seconds left in the first half.
That was the last time the Lions scored.
“We knew at halftime the only reason they scored were on some big plays,” Stovall said. “We just had to cut out the mental errors and we did that. Our offense really helped a lot too. They kept running the ball right at CPA and their guys had their hands on their hips because they weren’t able to keep up with our pace.”
Strolling around the field on an emotional high, Wynn was asked how he would celebrate the milestone victory over the weekend.
“It’s going to be great, but we’ve still got some work to do,” he said.
Said Stovall: “I’m going to do anything I can to spend as much time with my teammates as possible.”
Christ Presbyterian Academy 14 6 0 0 – 20
Notre Dame 6 15 0 21 – 42
CPA – Sam West 40 run (Sebastian Stubblefield kick), 9:51
ND – Cameron Wynn 10 run (kick failed), 8:16
CPA – Noah Henderson 27 pass from Ryan Eledge (Stubblefield kick), 7:24
ND – Dallas Brown 7 run (Hunter Hill kick), 10:49
ND – Cameron Wynn 22 run (Jeffry Watkins run), 1:53
ND – Wynn 3 run (Hill kick), 11:44
ND – Wynn 42 run (Hill kick), 7:01
ND – Wynn 1 run (Hill kick), 2:20
First Downs 11 29
Rushes-Yds 27-120 60-467
Passing Yds 133 27
Comp-Att-Int 10-18-2 2-4-0
Plys-Tot Yds 45-232 64-494
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 2-1
Penalties-Yds 10-70 9-82
Punts-Avg 3-32.3 2-28.0
RUSHING – CPA: Sam West 10-80, Ryan Eledge 5-8, Andrew Madden 7-16, Chase Huseman 5-16; Notre Dame: Cameron Wynn 25-238, Jeffrey Watkins 13-103, Trea Johnson 6-53, Akil Sledge 8-29, Caleb Edwards 4-22, Dallas Brown 2-16, Landon Allen 1-0, Tarik Nelson 1-minus 2.
PASSING – CPA: Eledge 10-18-2-133; Notre Dame: Wynn 1-1-0-15, Watkins 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING – CPA: Noah Henderson 7-93, Dean Cooper 1-11, Garrett Beam 2-29; Notre Dame: Monroe Beard 1-15, Brown 2-12
(Contact Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @larryfleming44)