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CAK wake-up is a win

It was almost like two different Christian Academy of Knoxville football teams stepped out onto the field when CAK hosted McMinn Central Friday, Nov. 6, in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs.

There was the first through third quarter team, and then there was the fourth quarter team – and what a difference there was between the two.

The first team managed to keep the game close, often leading the game by a slight margin versus the No. 5-seed Chargers. The second team won the game 32-22.

The Warriors (10-1) advance to the second round of the playoffs against a familiar — and powerful — foe. They travel to No. 1-ranked and No. 1 playoff seed Alcoa Friday, Nov. 13.

Opening kickoff is at 7 p.m.

“I think we got to focus a little more and not get so caught up in the big game mentality and the big game atmosphere,” CAK head coach Rusty Bradley said.

Sophomore Colby Maddux said there’s a difference between last week’s loss against Alcoa and this game. “The difference is we’re going to have more motivation because this could be our final game. ... This time, that balloon won’t burst, as coach Bradley said.”

The Warriors may be playing without a key defensive player. Defensive end Matthew Smith injured his ankle late in the third quarter and is questionable for next week.

Against McMinn Central, CAK scored when Warriors quarterback Quinn Epperly hit Davis Burton for a 27-yard TD pass on its first drive of the game.

CAK, No. 4 seed, blocked the extra point attempt when MCHS answered with its own touchdown five minutes later.

This “first” Warriors team extended the lead 10-6 with Matthew Warren’s 20-yard field goal early in the second quarter.

After McMinn Central took the lead 12-10, CAK tied up the game with a safety with only 31 seconds left in the half.

And five minutes into the second half, Epperly, who completed 26 of 41 passes for 306 yards, threw a 15-yard TD pass to Blake Houser. CAK took the lead 19-12.

McMinn Central (7-4) quickly changed the momentum with a field goal and a TD, and at the start of the fourth quarter the Warriors were down 22-19.

Then the “second” CAK team showed up with energy and fight, going from being down by three points to being up by 10 in 1:07.

“I’m having a hard time talking right now. I challenged these guys this week because we were so disappointed [after last week’s loss], and I challenged them this week that a true testament of their character would be how they came out tonight and how they played,” Bradley said.

“I told them that if that cross on our helmet is real, then how we played tonight would reflect it ... a testament of their faith, and playing not just in their own strength but playing in God’s.”

Tailback Carson Pegram, who rushed for 97 yards and had six receptions for 46, said, “I think we clicked in the fourth quarter as a team, as a whole.

“We did what we did, and I’m proud of my team. They are a great team. There’s a lot we can do when we come together like that.”

“Carson’s really developed into a great player for us. I am so proud of him, how hard he works, and how hard he plays. He’s been a hard runner, a tough runner, all year. I love Carson to death,” Bradley said.

Pegram scored both Warriors TDs of the fourth quarter.

The first was the result of a steady drive down the field that took nearly four minutes. The second was seven seconds after an important interception courtesy of Maddux.

Of Maddux’s interception, Houser said, “... Our morale went from average to through the roof. It was insane. It was a critical part of the game, and he made a huge play.”

Bradley said, “It was huge to get the pick and to go in, score, and make it a two-score game. ... “I felt like that interception and then us going in to score kind of sealed the deal for us.”

A second interception by right cornerback Aaron Collett, who had four tackles, sealed the win.


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