The defending state champion Prince Avenue Christian School football team fell in its season opener to Calvary Day by a score of 21-13 in Savannah.
Led by quarterback Brock Vandagriff, the 2020 Wolverines bested the Cavaliers in their season opener a year ago, winning 42-7. Both teams later went to the playoffs. Calvary Day lost in the quarterfinals to Trinity Christian, the team the Wolverines beat in the Class A-Private state title contest.
This year, the new-look Wolverines had to travel south for the teams’ meeting.
Sophomore quarterback Aaron Philo, replacing Vandagriff this year, has faced high expectations following the state championship. His first performance of the season finished with 26 completed passes and 270 yards passing.
Prince Avenue Christian first saw trouble just two minutes into the game. Calvary Day used an interception to set up for its first touchdown by quarterback Jake Merklinger.
Philo and the Wolverines evened the score five minutes later. After nine plays covering 78 yards, Philo ran the ball into the end zone himself.
Neither team scored again in the second quarter, keeping a 7-7 tie at halftime.
That did not last for long, however, as the Cavaliers scored twice again in the third quarter.
With 5:32 left on the clock, Calvary Day yet again took advantage of an interception to drive in another touchdown, this time by freshman running back Donovan Johnson.
The Cavaliers quickly followed this a minute later with another score. A 21-second possession resulted in a 43-yard pass from Merklinger to a receiver in the end zone.
After the play, officials discussed a potential penalty, but dismissed it, putting the home team even further ahead by a score of 21-7.
Prince Avenue Christian came back in the final quarter with 9:41 left on the clock to drive in its second touchdown. Calvary Day then blocked the extra point attempt, limiting the Wolverines to only 13 points.
The final three minutes of the game were filled with plays that showed the determination of both teams.
Philo converted from three fourth downs to keep the ball in the Wolverines’ possession. With 56 seconds left on the clock, Philo was intercepted by Calvary Day’s Antonio Butts to end the game.
Despite the pressure on this year’s Wolverines, the team lacks high-pressure experience with new players on the field.
“We’re replacing 19 seniors, so we had a lot of inexperience,” said Prince Avenue Christian head coach Greg Vandagriff. “We just wanted to go out there and get better and execute right. We didn’t have a ton of expectations playing a semifinal team first game out.”
Although Prince Avenue Christian replaced five seniors on defense, Vandagriff is not worried about his defense. The team was unprepared offensively with 10 new starters against Calvary Day.
The team’s rushing output totaled to a loss of 4 yards.
Philo’s first game in the quarterback position resulted in four interceptions, but not the loss of the game. Vandagriff said that Philo and the offense need to work together in order to emerge victorious.
“Biggest thing right now is that he’s learning the system,” Vandagriff said. “We want him to not have to do too much. He doesn’t have to be trying to win the game as a sophomore when our o-line can step up, our running backs can step up and everybody can carry the load together.”
Vandagriff and the Wolverines look to make a strong comeback Friday, Aug. 27, at home against the Christian Academy of Knoxville.
This will mark Prince Avenue Christian’s first home game since capturing the Class A-Private state title in December.
A new yellow banner recognizing the title win is situated along the fence on the perimeter of the stadium, ready to greet fans as they arrive to watch the game at Brad Akins Field.