Since Jason Estep took over the Charlotte Christian football program in 2007, the Knights have done nothing but win.
They’ve compiled a 94-27 record during Estep’s 11-year tenure, have won seven or more games in nine season and have gone 4-3 in state championship games.
But they’ve never done it quite like this.
This year they’re 7-1 and have won seven consecutive games.
The Knights defense has been tremendous, allowing 14.6 points per game and is coming off possibly its best performance of the year in a 34-0 win over Charlotte Latin last week.
That game was a little extra special for the Knights, who lost by a point to the Hawks in last year’s state championship game.
“It was revenge from last year,” said star running back Justus Woods. “We had a sour taste in our mouths from that game last year, and especially losing how we did. We knew we couldn’t let it happen again and our team really stepped up. The defense stepped up and carried the weight in that win, but overall I think we did a really good job.”
The offense struggled a little with a season low 308 yards of total offense, but this team is like no other Charlotte Christian team on that side of the ball.
This season, led by Woods and star junior quarterback Garrett Shrader, the Knights are averaging 46.9 points per game, which is a school record for production.
The 2013 Knights, which won one of Estep’s state titles with a perfect 12-0 season came close, averaging about 44 points per game. That team was loaded with next-level stars on offense such as Austin Kendall (Oklahoma), Garrett Bradbury (N.C. State), Elijah Deveaux (Duke), Jeb Blazevich (Georgia), Bo Hines (Yale) Connor Maitland (Tennessee Tech), Jaylon McClinton (Army), Brian Chaffin (Stanford) and more.
This version of the Knights isn’t lacking in star power, but what makes this year’s team so lethal on offense?
It starts with Shrader, a strong-armed dual threat quarterback who can beat teams with his arm or his feet. At 6-foot-5, Shrader has the ideal size, arm strength and speed that have college coaches from around the country dreaming of landing him.
Shrader, who is ranked a top 10 prospect in the state, boasts offers from Penn State, Alabama, Louisville, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, Mississippi and many others.
“The biggest thing for us is chemistry,” Shrader said. “We’ve all been playing for a while now, so we know where everyone is and what they’re going to be doing.
“Our defense does an excellent job of getting teams off the field and that allows us more time. Offensively, we’re a junior and senior team so we’re experienced. We also have a great game plan each week, and coach (former Carolina Panther Pete) Metzalaars does a great job with that. We have input in that too with what we see on film and knowing people’s tendencies and we’ve been able to execute off of that.”
Shrader has put up some gaudy numbers. He’s completed 67 percent of his passes and thrown for 1,550 yards and 17 touchdowns against just five interceptions, including zero picks during his last four games. He’s also run for 505 yards and eight touchdowns.
“This guy could probably take on the whole team by himself,” Woods said, only half jokingly, of Shrader. “We have so many good athletes on this team with Shrader (and receivers) Terrelle (Brown) and Josh (Eboboko). That gives us so many options, and whoever gets the ball is always a threat, so that makes us dangerous.”
Woods is a threat in his own right, capable of taking over games at any time.
He committed to Stanford in March, choosing the Cardinal over UCLA, Purdue, Vanderbilt, Wisconsin, Virginia Tech and others.
This season, Woods has 118 carries for 857 yards and 15 touchdowns, but the Knights use Shrader, Eboboko and freshmen Chip Kasay and Henry Rutledge to temper the wear and tear on their star back as he only has slightly more than 50 percent of the team’s rushing attempts.
“It is really helpful to have these other guys,” Woods said. “I’d love to be able to carry the ball as many times as I can, but having Garrett running 60 yards down the field and having Terrelle, Josh and Alex (Cherne) on the outside takes some of the wear and tear off of me. Everybody is a weapon on the field, so it’s nice for us.”
When Shrader takes to the air, he can pick and choose his targets as 12 players have caught passes this season including Brown (team highs with 27 catches, 453 receiving yards and five touchdowns), Eboboko (13 catches, 273, four touchdowns), Cherne (21 catches, 223), Ricky Kofoed (17 catches, 215, two touchdowns) and Woods (16 receptions, 203, four scores).
“Having so many weapons on offense allows us to be efficient,” Shrader said. “Justus gets to limit his carries so he’s not worn down by the end of the game or by the end of the season, but we’re efficient and versatile and can attack in a lot of different ways.”
That attacking offense has the Knights one win from another league championship as they set to travel to 7-1 Providence Day in a showdown of the class of the CISAA on Oct. 27.
“Last game I had some bad throws and that’s on me,” Shrader said. “I’m glad to get that one out of the way. We weren’t as efficient as we had been the past two weeks, but we’ve put that behind us and we’re looking forward to Providence Day this week.”
The Knights know the recipe for success works and understand what they need to do to win their eighth straight games and roll into the playoffs looking for their fifth title under Estep.
“Seeing all of the hard work that we put in this offseason and this season pay off is great,” Shrader said. “Luckily we’re at a program where we expect to be in the playoffs and state championship every single year. If we don’t make it and don’t win, then it’s a bad season. So every year we just try to get better and reach our goals and that’s what we’re trying to do the rest of the way.”