Prep Football: Heritage Christian on verge of 8-man title
By DOUG GORMAN
The Heritage Christian Crusaders are on the verge of making history.
On Saturday afternoon, the Crusaders battle Ballard Christian from Auburn, Ala., for the eight-man Independent Christian Schools of Georgia and Alabama championship.
It’s the Crusaders’ first trip to a league championship game in its seven-year history of playing football.
Head coach Al Williams’ knew his team was committed to getting to this year’s title game soon after it walked off the field last year following a loss to CrossPointe in the playoffs.
“The kids have really bought into the program,” Williams said. “This coaching staff has done a great job getting us ready to play football. I learned a long time ago, that the key is to surround yourself with good people, and our coaching staff has done a great job.”
Getting to the title game has been a five-year process for the Crusaders.
“We could beat a couple of teams here and there, but it was all kind of unorganized,” Williams said. “What has changed though, there has been a big focus on the defense and just getting faster on both sides of the ball.”
Another reason for the Crusaders’ success on the football field is its work in the off-season.
Strength and conditioning coach Andy Coggins has stressed the importance of getting in the weight room in order to get bigger and faster and its paying off on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
“The off-season conditioning has been huge,” assistant head coach Rob Caney said. “Coach Coggins has convinced our guys that they have to work 12 months a year, and they are starting to listen."
The Crusaders got a little bit of revenge last Friday night when they turned the tables on CrossPointe with a 38-14 win to advance to the championship game.
Heritage Christian has used a combination of big plays by the offense and the defense to post a 10-1 record heading into the state championship.
Like many teams, the Crusaders’ success starts with the offensive line.
“My hats off to the offensive line,” Wiliams said. “Our kids up front all weigh more than 200 pounds. You throw that into an eight-man team and that is big.”
They guys that line up in the backfield are doing a good job of finding the holes.
The Crusaders have rolled up 562 points in 11 games, including a 92-point effort against Praise Academy.
Running backs J.D. Farlow and Austin Reeves have combined on more than 50 touchdowns each heading into Saturday’s championship.
Farlow has rushed for more than 2,000 yards, while Reeves has gained over 1,000.
“One of the things that has been part of our success is the line,” Reeves said. “They do a great job of opening the holes, and there is great chemistry all around.”
Reeves expects Ballard to be ready for the rematch.
“The last time was a great win for us,” Reeves said. “We know they are going to be fired up and ready to play. Neither one of us has won a championship. They want it, we want it, so it should be a good game.”
Farlow is convinced his team is up for the rematch.
“We stopped them before, and I think we can do it again,” he said.
Despite its potent offense that has caused nightmare for opponents this year, the Crusaders stingy defense has given up just 21 points per game.
Defensive coordinator Paul Frantz knows it is defense that can win championships.
“We are a little bigger, stronger and faster this year,” he said. “It’s been a matter of getting this defense built over the last three years. You lose a lot of football games and kids aren’t too interested in doing what needs to be done to get better. They start winning, and you start showing them some things and it becomes a whole lot different.”
Christian Parkerson, who has more than 70 tackles this year, expects the Crusaders’ defensive unit to again set the tone the Crusaders’ historic game.
“It would be worth all the hard work if we win,” he said. “We have really been working up to this for a long time. This defense is really agressive and plays hard all the time.”
Defensive lineman Tyler Smith calls the weeks of practice well worth it.
“This team has a lot of heart and dedication, and that is what it is going to take to win Saturday.”
Williams is confident the Crusaders are going to respond with a strong effort.
“Many of our kids have been here four our five years and they are committed to win the title,” William said. “It’s taken support from a lot of people. Parents, administrators to make this all come together. I feel very blessed.”