Asked his impressions of the Christian Academy football team, Danville’s Clay Clevenger echoed the sentiments of most of the previous coaches who have faced the Centurions this season.
“If they leave those two big defensive ends at home, we might have a chance,” Clevenger said.
Indeed, CAL’s imposing defensive line figures to be a big factor when the Centurions (13-1) face Danville (12-2) at 1:30 p.m. EST Sunday in the Class 2-A state championship game in Bowling Green.
Defensive ends Jake Paulson (6 feet 5, 250 pounds) and K.C. Purvis (6-5, 215) and tackles Nick Olsofka (6-3, 270) and Michael Lagestee (6-2, 220) are big reasons CAL is allowing just 11.7 points per game this season. That number drops to 9.5 points over four playoff games, including a pair of shutouts.
“Danville throws it a ton, so our front four has to put pressure on the quarterback,” CAL coach Stefan LeFors said. “That’s a key for us. … Those four guys are champing at the bit.”
MORE COVERAGE | Sophomore Milton Wright versatile weapon for CAL
The Admirals, who have won 10 state titles but are in the state final for the first time since 2006, are led by 6-foot-3 senior quarterback Zack Dampier. He has passed for 3,411 yards and 42 touchdowns this season and has several speedy targets led by Dmauriae VanCleave (65 catches, 989 yards, 9 TDs), David Walker (55 catches, 775 yards, 16 TDs) and Ellison Stanfield (50 catches, 869 yards, 7 TDs).
Clevenger said Dampier has a quick release and is very accurate.
“But his best assets are that he’s a 4.0 student and has a 31 on his ACT,” Clevenger said. “He’s the kind of kid that you tell him something once, and he’s got it. He owns his trade. He owns trying to be the best quarterback he can be.”
LeFors said his front four is excited about facing a pass-happy offense but warned that sacks may not be easy to come by as Danville relies on short routes.
“They have to influence the game in different ways than getting sacks,” LeFors said.
CAL has plenty of offensive firepower itself, led by sophomore quarterback Austin Carr (1,499 passing yards, 19 TDs) and sophomore wide receiver Milton Wright (25 total touchdowns).
LeFors said CAL’s running attack is sometimes overlooked, as seniors Anteneh Thompson and Tanner Palin both have topped 600 rushing yards this season and combined for 24 touchdowns.
“We have to run the ball and rely on our line up front,” LeFors said. “Those two guys are first-year starters, but they’re seniors and have a lot of experience. They both made huge strides in the weight room this summer. …
“Anteneh has a better feel for the inside-run game, whereas Palin can get in the open field and run has great speed.”
Perhaps the biggest key for CAL on Sunday will be avoiding a letdown after emotional victories over DeSales in the third round of the playoffs and Mayfield in last week’s state semifinals.
LeFors said he had 275 text messages after the Mayfield game, and the CAL community is excited to be making its first trip to a state football final.
“There’s a fine line of soaking it all in and enjoying everything that comes our way and knowing there’s a game to be played Sunday and that Danville is going to give us their best shot,” LeFors said. “We have to prepare like we’ve been preparing all year.”
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
CLASS 2-A STATE FOOTBALL FINAL
CHRISTIAN ACADEMY VS. DANVILLE
When: 1:30 p.m. EST Sunday.
Where: Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium, Bowling Green.
CHRISTIAN ACADEMY CENTURIONS (13-1)
* Coach: Stefan LeFors (sixth year).
* Top rushers: Anteneh Thompson (5-9, 180, Sr., 101 carries, 741 yards, 14 TDs); Tanner Palin (5-8, 161 Sr., 120 carries, 671 yards, 10 TDs); Harrison Zimmerer (5-10, 170, Fr., 51 carries, 253 yards, 3 TDs).
* Top passer: Austin Carr (6-2, 200, So., 108 of 192, 1,499 yards, 19 TDs, 7 INTs).
* Top receivers: Milton Wright (6-3, 185, So., 42 catches, 730 yards, 15 TDs); Jake Paulson (6-5, 250, Sr., 24 catches, 319 yards, 3 TDs); Nicholas Weaver (6-3, 195, Sr., 18 catches, 261 yards, 1 TD).
* Defensive leaders: Nick Olsofka (6-3, 270, Jr., 58 tackles, 1 INT); Jake Paulson (6-5, 250, Sr., 58 tackles); Logan Young (5-11, 189, Sr., 48 tackles, 3 INTs); Milton Wright (6-3, 185, So., 46 tackles, 5 INTs); Jackson Sparrow (5-10, 165, Sr., 42 tackles); Elijah Smith (5-10, 151, So., 27 tackles, 5 INTs).
* State-final history: This is CAL’s first trip to the state final.
DANVILLE ADMIRALS (12-2)
* Coach: Clay Clevenger (fourth year).
* Top rusher: Donlevy Harris (5-9, 180, Jr., 165 carries, 1,252 yards, 19 TDs); Isiah Miller (5-10, 160, So., 23 carries, 192 yards, 2 TDs).
* Top passer: Zack Dampier (6-3, 185, Sr., 223 of 320, 3,411 yards, 42 TDs, 6 INTs).
* Top receivers: Dmauriae VanCleave (5-7, 160, Jr., 65 catches, 989 yards, 9 TDs); David Walker (6-0, 175, Jr., 55 catches, 775 yards, 16 TDs); Ellison Stanfield (5-11, 175, Sr., 50 catches, 869 yards, 7 TDs); Jaleel Warren (6-0, 200, Jr., 27 catches, 466 yards, 6 TDs).
* Defensive leaders: Donlevy Harris (5-9, 180, Jr., 153 tackles, 1 INT); Zach Thornton (6-1, 160, So., 104 tackles); Keshawn Railley (5-11, 195, Jr., 98 tackles); Ethan Downey (5-11, 175, Jr., 93 tackles); David Walker (6-0, 175, Jr., 61 tackles, 4 INTs); Dmauriae VanCleave (5-7, 160, Jr., 50 tackles, 9 INTs).
* State-final history: Danville is 10-3 all-time in state finals. The Admirals last reached a final in 2006, falling to Newport Central Catholic 37-34 in the Class A championship game.
Christian Academy must avoid any kind of letdown after eliminating the two teams – DeSales and Mayfield – most pegged as its top competition for a state title. Quarterback Zack Dampier will give Danville a chance and leads a short-passing attack that CAL coach Stefan LeFors said is the Admirals’ strength.
Christian Academy 35-20. Centurions have too much size and speed.