Fully Charged: Cornerstone claims first state championship with win over Springwood

Published 3:22 pm Thursday, November 16, 2023

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

MONTGOMERY – The Cornerstone Christian Chargers entered the AISA 8-Man State Championship game at the Cramton Bowl on Thursday, Nov. 16 with two goals: get revenge against the Springwood Wildcats, who beat them in the semifinals last season, and claim the school’s first football state championship.

They did both, and the Chargers walked out of Montgomery with the trophy thanks to a 66-18 win over the Wildcats.

“I’m in shock, to be honest with you,” Cornerstone coach James Lee said. “This is a wonderful feeling. These guys have worked so hard and the coaches have worked so hard to get to this point, and we’re so thankful.”

However, before dominating down the stretch, the Chargers had to overcome some early adversity.

Springwood took command of the game in the early moments, and that started with a 1-yard rushing touchdown less than two minutes into the game.

The Wildcats’ CJ Johnson then took advantage of a Cornerstone turnover on downs to reel off runs of 42 and 31 yards, the latter for Springwood’s second touchdown of the half. However, the Wildcats lead was just 12-0 after a pair of failed two-point conversions.

That let Zeke Adams cut the lead to just four, countering a great Springwood kickoff with a 97-yard touchdown run on the first play of the drive for his first of five rushing touchdowns as he went for 328 rushing yards from the quarterback spot.

The Wildcats responded just two plays later with a 82-yard catch and run by Cole Pearson, but another stop on a two-point conversion only let them go up 18-8.

From there, Adams led an efficient drive in the air with a pass to Noah Schober to the 20 and then another first down pass to Seth Dillard inside the 10. Adams then took a carry at the goal line into the end zone for the score to cut the deficit to 4.

That helped swing the momentum into Cornerstone’s favor. The Chargers defense came up with a quick punt, which let Adams take it to the house from 90 yards out on the first play of the drive. The ensuing two-point pass to Dillard succeeded, and the Chargers had their first lead of the game at 22-18 with 47 seconds left in the first quarter.

Then, the Chargers kept the pressure coming and were rewarded with a fumble in the backfield and a scoop and score touchdown by Cash Causey.

On the next drive, disaster struck again for Springwood thanks to a high snap on 4th down just two plays after similar one, which forced a turnover on downs.

Adams tested the deep ball, but ended up carrying the ball into the end zone from 19 yards out. His fourth rushing touchdown of the half put Cornerstone up 36-18 at halftime.

Lee said that the turnaround in the first half was due to the perseverance the players have developed both this season and throughout their entire careers.

“They started for us at seventh and eighth grade, taking their beats,” Lee said. “They persevered at that point, and we persevered all season long with everything they’ve gone through. They’ve been down in games and they didn’t rattle them one bit. They just weathered the storm and went with it.”

On the first drive of the third quarter, the Chargers embarked on a lengthy drive, getting the ball past midfield before being forced into a 4th-and-3 situation. However, Springwood jumped offside, and that kept the drive alive for a goal-line touchdown by Adams to go up 42-18.

The Wildcats got a fourth down conversion of their own on their next drive, but Hampton Etheredge came up with a big fumble recovery to flip the field.

Then, Jackson Moore came into the game and scored the next eight points by himself with a rushing touchdown from just outside the red zone and a two-point conversion to get the Chargers to 50 points with three minutes left in the third quarter.

That third quarter effectively put the game away, but Cornerstone would take advantage of a pair of turnovers on downs to add to its lead.

Drake Dunning scored a 5-yard touchdown early in the quarter for eight more points, and then, after coming into the game at quarterback, TC Sanders scored from 25 yards out for another eight points to put the finishing touches on a 66-18 win and a state championship.

Adams had 20 carries for 328 yards and five touchdowns while also going 4-for-10 passing for 95 yards and earning 10 tackles. Dunning had eight carries for 40 yards and a touchdown, and Moore and Sanders both scored touchdowns on their lone carries. Cohen Hewitt also had three carries for 37 yards.

On defense, Etheredge and Malachi Adams led the team with 11 tackles each, while Etheredge also had a fumble recovery. Schober had nine tackles and a pass break-up to go with his 67-yard reception, and James Wilson had nine tackles and a tackle for loss.

Landon Alexander had five tackles and two tackles for loss, Sanders had five tackles and Causey had four tackles, two tackles for loss and a fumble recovery for a touchdown to cap off a 71-tackle day for the Chargers defense.

After the game, Zeke Adams and the team agreed that this win was a long time coming.

“Honestly, this is a moment I’ve been waiting for a very long time,” Adams said. “I’ve been under my coach for a very long time. I really wanted it for me and the team.”

Schober said that playing together and relying on each other was a key reason why Cornerstone claimed the championship.

“It comes from the brotherhood we’ve had all season, the brotherhood we’ve built just knowing that your brother next to you is going to do their assignment, and you’ve got to play your game and just know your brothers are going to take care of you,” Schober said. “So, just sticking to our assignments was a big thing.”

With Cornerstone only losing a pair of seniors and returning nearly their entire core, Lee said that anything is possible for the Chargers going forward.

“The sky’s the limit with our guys,” Lee said. “I really do. Great leadership, but they’re great young men overall. They are just phenomenal young men, good godly men. They’re the leaders of our school, and I see our school going even farther because of these men, but our football program going even farther because of them too.”