National Champs: Hope wins NACA Division III title

The Hope Christian School Eagles were down, but they weren’t out.

After dropping their first back-to-back games of the season, the Eagles rebounded at the perfect time to take down University Christian of Jacksonville, Fla., 46-42, in the National Association of Christian Athletes Division III championship Friday in Dayton, Tenn.

“Our guys checked their attitudes at the door this morning and they went out there and played like we know how they can play,” Hope head coach Mark Rettig said. “We’ve got a lot to be proud of.”

Despite falling 56-24 to Georgia State champion Appling Christian on Wednesday, the Eagles played for the Division III title due to only two teams being in each Division II and Division III, with the two winning teams playing for the Division II title and the two losing teams playing for the Division III title.

Appling earned the Division II championship berth by taking the win over Hope.

With Lighthouse Christian defeating University on Wednesday, that set up the match-up with the Eagles.

University opened an 8-0 lead in the first quarter, but Hope came storming back, scoring 24 points in the second quarter to take a 24-14 lead into the half.

The Eagles scored the first second-quarter touchdown on a 3-yard run by quarterback Luke Mahan, which was set up by a 57-yard run by Zac Hughes. Hope backed up the score with an Andrew Whitson fumble return for a touchdown after Will Herring hit the quarterback, causing the ball to come loose.

“He has a huge heart,” Rettig said of Herring. “If there’s a play that changed the game, I would have to say that’s it.”

Hughes also had touchdown runs of 5 and 11 yards in the first half.

“Zac and Luke on the field at the same time is a force to be reckoned with,” Rettig said.

In the third quarter, Mahan connected with Eric Spence for a 10-yard touchdown pass, and then Hughes added a 60-yard touchdown run to give the Eagles a 38-28 lead going into the final quarter. Hughes added another touchdown on a 16-yard pass to Caleb Douglas before Ryan Gibbens sacked the University quarterback for a safety to seal the victory.

Offensively for the Eagles (9-4), Hughes had 184 yards rushing and three touchdowns, while also throwing 4-of-9 for 55 yards a touchdown. Mahan was 9-of-18 for 84 yards with a touchdown on the ground and through the air.

Defensively, Jacob Medders had a team-high 10 tackles, followed by Karry Jones with nine and Caleb Rettig with eight.

Mahan, Hughes, Medders and Jones were each named to the All-Tournament team, while Whitson was named the Defensive MVP.