The third time will be the charm for either Christ Presbyterian Academy of Alcoa on Friday.
CPA entered last year’s state title game vs. Alcoa with a sour taste in its mouth after falling to the Tornadoes 25-7 in the 2013 Class 3A state championship.
The Lions prevailed in 2014, taking home the 3A title with a 7-0 shutout, and now it’s Alcoa that’s determined to settle the score.
“We’ve played them three years in a row,” CPA senior quarterback Zack Weatherly said. “It’s definitely going to be a grudge match.”
CPA (13-1) and Alcoa (13-1) meet at 3 p.m. Friday in the BlueCross Bowl at Tennessee Tech’s Tucker Stadium in Cookeville.
Both coaches insist that past two years won’t matter.
“We don’t talk about anything that goes on in the past,” Alcoa coach Gary Rankin said. “We always talk about the seniors. That’s why it’s special to me. I may get this chance next year or the year after, who knows, but it’s their last time to play, and it’s pretty important to them.”
CPA coach Ingle Martin said it’s hard to classify Friday’s game as a rematch due to the teams’ different personnel this season, but he does think the past experiences give the Lions a lot on which to build.
“I think it’s so different year-to-year because you have different kids,” Martin said. “For us, I don’t think it makes it easier or harder, but I think the experience of being there in the game helps as much as anything.”
A strong core
Experience has been a large factor for the Lions all season long.
CPA sees a majority of its offense and a majority of its stops on defense come from its core group of 26 seniors.
Weatherly is the Lions’ leading passer, senior running back Chip Omer is their leading rusher, senior wide out Price Perdue is the No. 1 receiver and Omer and senior Wallace Barrett are two of the top defensive stoppers.
The seniors work together well, and most of them have been friends for a long time.
“The big thing about our senior class is that I think eight of the 11 starters have been here since kindergarten,” Weatherly said. “We’ve been going to school for 13 years now together, so we’re all best friends and we just know each other so well.”
Almost all of the seniors began playing football together at CPA as soon as that was an option.
“It’s pretty awesome that most of us have been playing since fifth grade together,” Barrett said. “It’s a lot of fun sharing that bond on the field.”
And that bond is easy to see when the Lions play.
“It does a lot just because we do everything together,” Weatherly said. “On the field we care about each other so much. There’s no tension between anybody on our team because we all love each other so much.”
One of the strongest bonds on the team may be between Weatherly and Perdue.
That combo has hooked up on 43 passes this year for 871 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“I think we’ve just got a combination of a really good quarterback and a really good receiver,” Martin said. “Zack does a great job of putting the ball where Price can make a play on it, and Price does a good job of making a play on it.
“Price definitely gives us what we feel is an advantage outside. We’re excited to hopefully have that connection happen a couple more times.”
It’s the Lions’ running game that opens things up for the Weatherly-Perdue combo.
“We run the ball, run the ball, then we play-action,” Weatherly said. “And that gets the safeties up and leaves (Perdue) open over the middle.”
Weatherly and Perdue have hooked up for touchdowns of more than 50 yards on a somewhat regular basis.
In CPA’s last two games against Liberty Tech and White House-Heritage, the duo connected for three touchdowns of 50 yards or more, and the week before against Startford they hooked up on one from 49 yards out.
“I just throw it as far as I can and he goes and gets it,” Weatherly said.
Defense digging in
While the seniors have the offense running smoothly, CPA is looking to its defense to step up like it did in last year’s BlueCross Bowl shutout.
The Lions have found a defensive groove in the playoffs, allowing just 33 points in its four playoff games, including only 19 allowed by the starters.
“I think our defense right now is peaking at the right time,” Weatherly said. “We shut out a really good Liberty Tech team and they’re incredible. That’s big for us. Our defense has really stepped up.”
With a veteran offense and a defense that’s clicking, CPA hopes to break the current BlueCross Bowl tie with Alcoa.
“It’s all starting to come together,” Barrett said.
Reach Sam Brown at 615-259-8232 and on Twitter @SamBrownTN.
Matchup: 3A title game vs.Alcoa (13-1), Friday, 3 p.m.
Top players: Zack Weatherly (Sr. QB), Chip Omer (Sr. RB), Price Perdue (Sr. WR), Wallace Barrett (DB).
Points scored: 519 (37.1)
Points allowed: 204 (14.6)
Playoff results: Def. Cheatham County 41-0, Stratford 31-12, White House-Heritage 55-21, Liberty Tech 21-0