It may not have the history of Male-Manual or St. Xavier-Trinity, but the Christian Academy-DeSales high school football rivalry quickly is becoming one of Louisville’s best.
Both teams are ranked among the top 15 in Class 2-A according to The Courier-Journal’s Litkenhous Ratings — the Centurions at No. 9, the Colts at No. 11 — and will meet again Friday night at CAL in the second round of the playoffs.
“In my opinion they’re our biggest rival because of what it means,” DeSales coach Harold Davis said. “Holy Cross is a rivalry game for us, but it doesn’t affect our district or the playoffs. CAL does.”
The teams first met in 2005, and DeSales won the first seven matchups. CAL got its first win over DeSales last year during the regular season (29-21) and then beat the Colts again (30-27 in overtime) in the second round of the playoffs.
CAL made it three in a row earlier this season, winning 30-21 on Oct. 12.
“After getting this job I could see the level of desire to want to beat DeSales, knowing they’d been one step ahead of us in the past,” said Stefan LeFors, CAL’s second-year head coach. “When our kids do one more sprint or one more rep in the off-season, it’s geared toward beating DeSales.”
The Colts (7-4) enter the matchup after a hard-fought 17-6 victory at Green County last week in the first round of the playoffs. Junior running back Dylan Byrd continued his outstanding season with 200 yards and two touchdowns, boosting his season totals to 1,417 yards and 20 TDs.
Byrd rushed for 78 yards on 15 carries against CAL during the regular-season meeting.
“He didn’t have his best game, so we have to get him going if we can this time,” Davis said. “We know they’re going to key on him, so we have to find a way to get him the ball out in space and let him do some running for us.”
Junior quarterback Nathan Roush has passed for 1,091 yards and 13 TDs and also is the Colts’ second-leading rusher with 549 yards and six TDs.
LeFors said Byrd is the key to DeSales’ offense, but Roush can’t be overlooked.
“When they’re stuck in a hole, he just finds a way to move the chains whether it’s with his legs or his arm,” LeFors said. “Then Byrd breaks one down the sideline for 60 yards.”
But CAL (8-3) has been stingy on defense all season, allowing just 9.2 points per game after giving up 23 a game last year.
LeFors credited first-year defensive coordinator Pat Riley, a former assistant at Trinity and Eastern, for the improvement. Senior linebacker Chad Meredith leads CAL with 82 tackles, and senior lineman John Popovich has added eight sacks.
“We knew our defense would be a strong point early on because we have 10 starters back on that side,” LeFors said. “But I couldn’t have sat here and told you they’d play at this level all year.”
Sophomore Nick Payne leads the CAL rushing attack with 1,009 yards and 12 TDs. Junior quarterback Nathan Christmas, a transfer from Bullitt East, has passed for 1,229 yards and 11 TDs. Junior Chad Lewellyn (39 catches, 511 yards, six TDs) is the top receiver.
LeFors knows all three will have to be at their best if CAL is to win its fourth straight against DeSales. The past four meetings all have been decided by nine or fewer points.
“We’ve been fortunate to come out with the last three, but they easily could have finished the other way around.”
GAME OF THE WEEK
* Who: DeSales (7-4) at Christian Academy (8-3).
* When: 7:30 tonight.
* Next week: Winner will face Glasgow-Bardstown winner in Class 2-A quarterfinal.
* Jason’s pick: Christian Academy 24-20.