High School Football

Undefeated Crusaders ready for showdown with top-ranked Hope

by Chris Goltermann

Only about a half hour into Central Christian's practice on Tuesday, the Crusaders started running 'gassers,' - the term head coach Paul Frantz uses to describe sideline to sideline sprints typically reserved for the end of practice.

'Ironman football,' Frantz said.

Truly, the eight-man game requires stamina bigger programs might be able to mask in numbers. But tonight, Central Christian finds itself at a potential disadvantage against one of the larger 8-man rosters the program will face this year in the Alabama Christian League.

The Crusaders travel to Pelham, Ala., to face division favorite Hope Christian in a collision course between a pair of undefeated lineups that have yet to play a full game.

That all expects to change tonight, however. Central has outscored its first three opponents 168-35 in contests that had a running clock for most, if not all, of the second half.

Hope, with a roster of 31 players - more than some 11-man programs in the state - has equally dominated, winning its first three games 38-0, 55-14 and 59-14, the last of which while jumping out to a 39-point lead by halftime while running the I-formation under first-year coordinator Jeff Weaver.'Hope is on a different level than the other teams we've played,' Frantz said. 'We're going to be in a football game Friday night. I don't expect a blowout at all.'

Quarterbacks Cannon Fuqua and Dillon Thompson lead a high-powered offense for the Eagles against a Central defense that hopes to continue a trend for making big plays. Junior safety Jared Farlow returned a one-handed interception for a 35-yard touchdown to get last week's 62-6 blowout over Lighthouse Homeschool of Oneonta, Ala., started.

In just three weeks, the Crusaders have put the woes of a winless 2013 behind them for good while averaging 341 yards rushing at just under 12 yards a carry. While Farlow's 369 yards rushing leads four athletes with at least 165 yards and four touchdowns so far, Frantz also points directly to Central's linemen for creating holes.

Senior guard Christian Parkerson (6-2, 264) has eight pancake blocks in three games while joined up front by younger brother Jesse Parkerson (6-0, 244) and Wyatt Martinez (5-11, 223), both juniors, among standouts.

'It is the talent in the backfield, but them big uglies, they're getting after it. There's been some plays on game film, I think I could have scored that touchdown. And we've got speed. It's not something we've always had at this school,' Frantz said. 'We feel good. Offensively, defensively, we're not scared of anybody.'

Frantz may relish an underdog role tonight, however. Central was picked to finish near the bottom of five teams in preseason polls. While a loss tonight wouldn't cause a major detour to goals of reaching the ACSC semifinals, a victory keeps the Crusaders' destiny firmly in their grasp.

'I don't ever want to be the favorite. Sometimes it's a bit easier for kids to play loose if they keep hearing they're not supposed to win a football team,' Frantz said. 'We talked at the beginning of the season, if you lose, your destiny is no longer in your hand. If you want to the playoffs beyond a shadow of a doubt, win every football game. The more you lose, the more you need help from somebody else.'

So far, intensity both during two hour practices and 30-minute weight room sessions that follow nightly, haven't brought complaints so far - at least on Friday nights.

'I've heard a lot of things said, but nobody came up to me about how much I ran them after we won 62-6 last Friday night,' Frantz said. 'The kids are playing their hearts out. We've got to get after them, and get after them quick. This is definitely going to be a test of this football team. This is our time to put the league on notice.'



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