Behind a suffocating defensive effort, Christian Heritage School improved to 2-0 on the season Friday with a 41-7 victory over visiting Gordon Central.
Though the scoreboard didn't show a shutout, it was one for the Lions defense, as the only score for the Warriors came on a scoop-and-score fumble recovery in the first half. Though the visitors drove inside the 10-yard line with less than five minutes remaining, Ben Hermann broke up a pass on fourth-and-goal to again deny Gordon Central's offense entry into the end zone.
That type of stifling defense is "what we expect" at CHS, said coach Jay Poag, especially after the Lions finished last season with four shutouts.
"That's become the standard here," Poag added. The home team's defense "kept us in the game in the first half" until the offense exploded for 27 points in the second stanza.
The Lions, who won their season-opener last week, 27-6, at Riverside Military Academy, opened Friday's game driving deep into Gordon Central's territory, but the momentum stalled and a field goal attempt failed. Later in the opening quarter, junior wide receiver Evan Lester rushed for 23 yards -- nearly breaking it to the house -- into visiting territory, then gained another 13 yards on a screen pass. He then broke open on a second-and-14 play from the 29, and quarterback Christian Thomas hit him for the game's first score with only 43 second remaining in the first quarter.
"We set that play up," and Thomas "threw it perfectly," Lester said. "It's a good feeling when you pop open."
The Warriors went in reverse on the ensuing possession against the stout CHS defense, but the aforementioned fumble return tied the game later in the quarter.
With 2:27 remaining before halftime, Lester hauled in a pass from Thomas between two defenders then broke free for a 35-yard touchdown. Though the Lions hurt themselves with penalties and mistakes in the opening half, that late score allowed them to head into the break with the lead -- and critical momentum.
"I think they hit each other, and then one had my ankle," Lester said of his acrobatic reception and run. "You just go up (for the ball) and hope for the best."
The break did nothing to attenuate the Lions ferociousness defensively, as the Warriors lost 2 yards on their first series before punting. CHS made it a two-score game when Thomas found sophomore Michael McDade on a post route for a 28-yard touchdown with 7:16 remaining in the quarter.
The teams later exchanged turnovers, but after being bottled up most of the game, Gage Leonard finally broke loose running and receiving to set his offense up deep in enemy territory. He then punctuated the drive with a 1-yard touchdown plunge with 11:23 remaining.
The Lions, who shut out the Warriors last season, 28-0, took possession again at their own 35 a short time later on an interception by Kirill Sniff, and then senior Ethan Smith managed to break containment and never looked back for a 53-yard touchdown run with 8:20 remaining that made the score 34-7. Sophomore Solomon Locke later concluded the scoring barrage with a 67-yard scamper with just less than three minutes remaining.
"We're playing a lot of kids, and we wore (the Warriors) down late," Poag said. Thomas "played well" at quarterback, and Lester is absolutely "a player."
The CHS offensive line "blocked really well," which allowed Lester time to free himself in pass patterns as well as find room on the ground when he was handed the ball, said the junior. "I come out here and just compete against everyone."
The Lions are looking to build on last season, which was their best campaign in memory -- they ascended to the top of the power rankings for the first time in school history and hosted their first playoff game. The Lions will now be idle until Sept. 13, when they'll host Lafayette.
With the open date, the Lions will "get healthy and refreshed," Poag said. "We have a couple kids nicked up a bit -- nothing serious -- and we'll clean up some mistakes."
There was a plethora of purple in the stands for the Lions home-opener Friday, a show of support for Steve Sparks, a longtime local football coach -- most recently Christian Heritage's defensive coordinator -- currently battling pancreatic cancer. Funds from some food sales Friday were also earmarked for Sparks and his family.