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The Prince Avenue Christian School football team checked off a major goal last Friday.

With a 44-15 victory over Athens Christian School, the Wolverines clinched their second-straight Region 8-A-Private championship. It marks the seventh region title in program history, dating back to 2005.

This year’s group of players entered 2021 with the proverbial chip on their shoulder in regard to the region. They felt there were people outside the program who doubted their capability of repeating as region champs following the graduation of 19 seniors from last year’s squad.

Last Friday, the Wolverines got to relish in their back-to-back titles.

“Hats off to our kids for responding,” Prince Avenue Christian head coach Greg Vandagriff said. “We had a lot of new starters and, every week, we've gotten better. We were able to handle all the region foes 4-0. ... I'm just really proud of our kids.”

During those four region games, Prince Avenue Christian outscored its opponents 209-28. Two of the wins were shutouts.

The players were excited to win the region for a consecutive season. However, they saw it as a stepping stone toward the playoffs. A region championship gives Prince Avenue Christian a No. 1 seed and home field advantage for at least the early rounds of the postseason.

“It feels good but we kind of expected it as a team,” junior Bailey Stockton said. “I think our goal is a state championship right now.”

Last week’s game was competitive early on.

Athens Christian punted on the first drive of the game then Prince Avenue Christian turned the ball over on downs after failing to pick up a first down.

The tight nature of the game lasted most of the first quarter until Mac Bradley powered into the end zone on a 7-yard run with 3:46 left in the first quarter. That gave the Wolverines a 7-0 lead.

Defense ruled most of the first half from then on.

The Eagles launched a lengthy drive halfway through the second quarter and scored on a 20-yard field goal with 6:53 left in the period.

A couple of minutes later, the Wolverines added onto their advantage thanks to a 1-yard touchdown run by Stockton.

The score stood at 14-3 with 4:35 to play in the second quarter.

Stockton found the end zone again soon thereafter. He scored his second rushing touchdown 36 seconds before halftime, giving Prince Avenue Christian a 21-3 lead at intermission.

The Wolverines defense forced a safety at the 10:28 mark of the third quarter, making it a 23-3 game.

Just over a minute later, Bradley scored his second rushing touchdown of the night to improve the lead to 30-3.

Elijah Dewitt made it 37-3 on a short rushing score. Dewitt’s touchdown improved Prince Avenue Christian’s lead with 4:07 to go in the third quarter.

The Eagles scored their first touchdown of the night with 1:42 to go in the third. They ripped off a 62-yard touchdown run to cut into the deficit, bringing the score to 37-9 after they failed a 2-point conversion attempt.

Athens Christian scored again with 3:56 left in the game. The Eagles’ second touchdown and second failed 2-point try brought the score to 37-15.

Prince Avenue Christian quarterback Aaron Philo connected with Ethan Christian on a touchdown throw just 8 seconds before the game ended, giving the Wolverines their decisive 44-15 lead.

The scoreboard showed an easy win for Prince Avenue Christian, but there were times where the game was anything but easy.

Both defenses excelled early. Though it was the Wolverines who had the best overall defensive performance, Athens Christian still found ways to disrupt the Wolverines offense at times.

Philo had a few passes that were nearly intercepted, including one that was simultaneously caught by Josh Britt and one of Athens Christian’s defensive backs.

The Eagles did pick off a pass from Philo by snagging the ball away from Dewitt at the goal line with 10:34 left in the third quarter.

Philo overcame the intermittent passing struggles and posted a solid stat line, finishing 20-for-28 with 316 yards passing.

But the biggest issue plaguing both teams was penalties.

Each squad got penalized early and often. A few of them were unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, which created for a few tense moments during the game.

Yellow laundry started covering the field so often that, with 9:28 to play, the game’s officials stopped the action, sent the players to their respective sidelines and called both head coaches to the field for a brief chat.

The coaches shook hands and the penalties died down from there, but the extensive number of fouls bogged down the game and slowed things down for both teams.

Philo said he was “a little disappointed in the way we played” and said he believed the players should have taken greater steps to prevent the penalties from wracking up.

“I felt like we didn't play our best,” Philo said. “I felt like we let the officials kind of control the game and that's something we can't do; we can't let that affect it.”

Moments after the game ended, Stockton said he and his teammates would learn a hard lesson for those mistakes.

“I think we got a little in our head and we were being a little selfish, including me,” Stockton said. “Coach V will get us right Monday. I'll be a little sore the next day, I'll tell you that.”

Despite good defensive opposition at times and a plethora of costly penalties, the Wolverines cruised to their ninth-straight victory.

The running game was a critical reason for it.

Bradley finished with 88 yards while Philo ran for 18 yards. They led a collective 113-yard effort on the ground.

“Our rushing game has probably been our best improvement since the first game,” Stockton said. “We probably had, like, 30 rushing yards in the first game and we're piling up the rushing yardage more and more every game, putting less stress on our sophomore quarterback. Our o-line is getting better and our perimeter blocking for our receivers has been better.”

Prince Avenue Christian established itself early in the season as a predominantly passing team.

Nowadays, the Wolverines strive for more of a dual threat. Vandagriff said the emergence of Philo as one of the state’s top passers helped the rushing attack find its groove, too.

“Because we throw the ball, that usually opens up the running game,” Vandagriff said. “If you run the ball, it opens up the throwing game. A lot of people usually are concerned with how we throw it, so it gave us running lanes [Friday].”

At the end of the cold night in Athens, the Wolverines were officially region champions again.

Uriah Howard, who led the defense last week with 11 total tackles including three tackles for loss, said it was a sweet feeling considering the doubts some people had about the Wolverines’ chances of repeating.

“All of those folks in our ears were just fuel for us,” Howard said. “We kept pounding the rock.”

Prince Avenue Christian will have an unexpected week off this Friday.

The Wolverines were scheduled to open the Class A-Private state playoffs with a game against King’s Ridge Christian School. Last Saturday, however, King’s Ridge Christian forfeited the game.

Now, the Wolverines await the winner of Brookstone and Whitefield Academy for a home game next Friday.

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