Evangel tops Cary Christian in Gatlinburg Black Bear Brawl

Published 7:38 pm Sunday, August 13, 2023

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

GATLINBURG, TN – The Evangel Lightning struck quickly to earn a big win over the Cary Christian Knights, 34-12, in the Gatlinburg Black Bear Brawl on Saturday, Aug. 12 to begin their national 8-man title defense.

The game got off to a breakneck start when Evangel’s Will Welch returned the opening kickoff 60 yards for a touchdown. After a two-point conversion, the Lightning had an 8-0 lead just eight seconds into the game.

Then, on the ensuing kickoff, Jake Cesarz gave Cary Christian a kickoff return touchdown of their own. The Knights failed to make their two-point conversion, leaving the Lightning with an 8-6 lead.

From there, new Evangel quarterback Kemp Swords and the Lightning offense took the field for the first time. Hunter Atkins opened with a strong 23 yard run, but he went down with an injury on his second carry and did not have any touches for the rest of the game.

After a Lightning punt, it was time for their defense to test themselves against 6-foot-4, 218-pound quarterback David Wisniewski Jr. and the Cary Christian offense. They proved themselves more than up to the task, as they brought pressure throughout the first drive and nearly caused a fumble, which led to a punt.

Once both teams traded punts, the Lightning put their foot on the gas. Caeleb Austin scored a rushing touchdown to cap off a drive which only had running plays and increase their lead to 14-6.

On the next drive, Zane Barlow picked off the Knights to set Evangel up with excellent field position. Austin capitalized on the first play of the drive with his second rushing touchdown of the game to take the Lightning’s lead to 20-6.

The Lightning then scored in the opening minute of the second quarter with a Swords keeper touchdown after a great catch in coverage by Zion Thompson. The ensuing two-point conversion put Evangel up 28-6 early in the second quarter.

Later in the quarter, Wisniewski showed his arm talent with a 50-yard touchdown pass to cut the Lightning’s lead to 28-12, which Evangel took into halftime.

After that, Evangel cruised in the second half and held the Knights scoreless. The Lightning added a fourth quarter touchdown from a 46-yard scoring run by Swords to cap off the 34-12 win.

In Swords’ first game for Evangel, he went 4-for-8 passing for 51 yards and earned 96 rushing yards and two touchdowns off 10 carries.

Swords led all Evangel rushers, but Austin was shortly behind him with 86 yards and two touchdowns from 10 carries. Overall, Evangel had 229 rushing yards on the night.

Thompson was the top receiver thanks to his 28-yard reception in the first quarter, which was his lone grab of the game.

On defense, Zion Thompson led the way for the Lightning with his big day, including two interceptions, five tackles and two pass deflections. Grady Watkins was Evangel’s tackle leader for the game with seven, two of which were for loss, and he added a forced fumble as well.

Next, Evangel will face East Central HomeSchool on the road on August 18, which will open their ACSC region schedule as they seek to defend their state title.