Charlotte Christian finished the season strong with their first state title win since 2014
Getting back to the state championship game had been on the minds of the Charlotte Christian football team since last year’s heartbreaking one-point loss to Charlotte Latin in the state championship game.
That game had come down to the final play where a Garrett Shrader two-point pass attempt was batted down, letting the Hawks escape with a 28-27 win.
This year was a different story nearly from the beginning.
The Knights lost to Charlotte Catholic to start the year, but it was a game they probably should have won.
They scored a 54-51 win over Myrtle Beach the following week, but from there they were simply dominant.
The Knights set a school record with their offensive productivity, averaging a program-best 47.8 points per game, and they had plenty of star power to make it happen.
Shrader was the NCISAA Player of the Year, and for good reason. The 6-5 junior quarterback threw for 2,302 yards and 24 touchdowns while completing 68 percent of his passes. He also ran 87 times for 791 yards and another 10 scores.
Senior running back Justus Woods helped keep the game plan balanced as the Stanford commit ranked up nearly 1,600 total yards and 24 touchdowns.
Junior Josh Eboboko tallied over 730 yards of total offense and eight touchdowns; senior receiver Terrelle Brown led the team with 35 catches, 567 yards and eight scores; Ricky Kofoed and Alex Cherne topped 350 receiving yards and combined four touchdowns and Woods had more than 300 receiving yards.
The offense played behind an experienced and talented offensive line and could take over games in unprecedented fashion.
Defensively, the Knights allowed just 10.4 points per game over their last nine games, and didn’t allow more than 21 points to anyone in that stretch. Against conference foes, they had two shutouts and allowed just 35 points in four games.
JT Killen led the team with 134 tackles, but Kofoed (90), Alex Nations (73), JB Awolowo (70), Ethan Cherne (64) and Landon Elliott (60) all swarmed to the ball at every opportunity.
Obi Egbuna led the way with seven interceptions, but Nations had four and LB Brown and Awolowo recorded three each.
Together, they were one of the most dominant of coach Jason Estep’s five state championship winning teams.
“I don’t rank them 1-5 because every team is different and has their own identity,” he said. “The thing always is that you’re proud of the kids to be able to walk off this football field and win a game their last time playing.”
And from the beginning, it seemed the Knights would get their chance to do just that.
They beat Providence Day 52-14 after putting up 650 yards of offense in the regular season finale to clinch the CISAA championship.
In the opening round of the NCISAA playoffs, the Knights hammered Christ School 52-12 behind great games from Shrader (16-26, 301 yards and three touchdowns; 88 rush yards and another score) and Woods (156 total yards and two touchdowns) on offense and Killen (10 tackles and a sack) and his teammates on defense to set up a rematch with Providence Day for the state title on Nov. 10.
After having last year’s championship decided on the final play, the Knights wanted to come out fast and put it away early, but the Chargers did a good job in the first half controlling the tempo as the Knights could muster just a 13-7 lead at the half.
“I think they did a good job of holding the ball in the first half,” Estep said. “I think they were at 40 plays offensively and we were at 32 and we had some untimely penalties in the first half which I think stopped some momentum for us but we challenged our guys at the half to throw a punch and see what happens.
“In this kind of game it’s always going to take a few possessions to figure them out, but once we figured them out we had it. We’re a second half football team because of the way that we play. Our guys kind of wear on people and we did a really nice job in the second half.”
The Knights got the ball first after the half, but were forced to punt. Providence Day punted it back less than 30 seconds later, and from there the rout was one.
Kofoed had one of the most spectacular plays of the game to get the Knights going, taking a Shrader pass 57 yards with some nice moves along the sideline to get into the end zone.
Christian would intercept Chargers quarterback Cody Cater on each of the next three possessions as Brown, Willi Lohoff-Gaida and Egbuna, who returned his for a touchdown, got the picks.
With two Woods touchdowns and a Shrader running score thrown in the mix, a 13-7 lead had ballooned to 47-7 before Providence Day scored twice late in the fourth quarter against mostly Knights reserves.
Shrader finished with 241 yards passing and a score and another 111 yards on the ground with a touchdown. Woods had a season-high 26 carries and 205 rushing yards to go with three scores and had two catches for 49 yards. Kofoed hauled in seven receptions for 156 yards and his dynamic touchdown and the defense was led by Killen’s 18 tackles.
The win was a fitting end to a spectacular season for the Knights, who went 10-1, won 10 consecutive games and their first title since 2014.
“We started clicking offensively and defensively after we opened with a punt, which is not what we wanted. We eventually got them in a position where they had to throw the ball and our DBs made some plays,” Estep said. “Our coaches do an unbelievable job of preparing our kids and we felt like we sort of knew what they were going to do and we were able to jump some of those routes and do some things.”
While the Knights will lose 22 seniors including leading receiver Brown and leading rusher Woods, there is plenty of underclassmen who will be looking to turn next year into the start of another Charlotte Christian dynasty like when the Knights went 31-2 and won three titles from 2012 to 2014.
“We had a great JV season and we have a lot of young guys coming back, but I want to enjoy this one with our senior class because we had such a good one and I’m so pumped for those guys,” Estep said. “We’ll get to next year when we get there.”