Led by a spirited group of nine seniors playing their final game, the Fellowship Christian Paladins won a 40-6 region crossover victory over Southwest Atlanta Christian at Paladin Field to wrap up a 5-5 season.
It marks the first time in school history the team has finished with an actual .500 record and is only the third time the Paladins have reached five wins in a season. The Paladins (5-5 overall and 1-5 in Region play in 2011) set a school record with an 11-2 mark in 2007 and finished 5-6 in 2005.
“The seniors have set the bar high here,” FCS head coach Hunter Chadwick said after the game. “They helped me roam the hallways and encourage the younger kids to play football. They have showed all season long what it means to be a good teammate. They will be a hard group to replace. They are a great group of kids.”
FCS defeated SACA for the second time in 14 days on Friday night, including a 30-18 win at Paladin Field on Oct. 21. The Paladins improved to 4-0 all-time against the short-handed Warriors, who finished their season with a 1-9 record.
The Paladins offense did not waste any time getting started on Friday night. The team scored on five out seven possessions to grab a 34-0 halftime advantage. The defense was not bad either, causing four turnovers and stopping the Warriors on fourth-down plays twice in the first half.
Senior running back Stephen Lantz led the Paladins with 150 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries on Friday night. He led the team with 13 touchdowns this season.
“Stephen has had an unbelievable two years,” Chadwick said. “He was committed to the program from the beginning, and he led by example on the field and in the weight room. Other kids saw his effort and fed off of that.”
Freshman running back Dalton Depew scored a 12-yard touchdown run 3:03 into the game to cap an eight-play, 62-yard opening drive. Tyler Hart kicked the first of four extra points to make it 7-0. On the play before the TD run, senior quarterback Blais Furse connected on a 23-yard pass completion to junior wide receiver Conor Linneen on 1st and 21 play from the Warrior 35-yard-line.
Just three plays from scrimmage later, junior cornerback Landon Kadi picked off a Warrior pass at the SACA 38-yard-line on a 3rd-and-21 play from the 14-yard line.
The ball was spotted at the 41-yard, and FCS took over again on offense. Following a 19-yard pick-up by Lantz, sophomore fullback James Wilson collected 14 yards on a run up the middle. Two plays later, Lantz scored again on a 4-yard to help the Paladins grab a 14-0 lead at 6:01 of the first quarter.
FCS stopped SACA on a 4th-and-22 play from the 23-yard-line at 3:43 of the first. They took over at the SACA 35-yard line and scored eight plays later as Lantz leaped over and side-stepped several defenders on a nifty 15-yard TD run. The extra-point kick by Hart was blocked, but FCS led 20-0 with 38.5 seconds left in the quarter.
Sophomore defensive lineman Clay Hostetter recovered a SACA fumble seconds later at the Warrior 35. Three plays later Kadi found the end zone on a 1-yard TD dive. The kick made it 27-0 just 12 seconds into the second quarter.
The Paladins defense came up big again, stopping the Warriors on a 4th-and-6 play from their own 42-yard line seven plays into their next possession. But the Paladins next drive stalled, despite a 27-yard run by Wilson, as Lantz was held to 3 yards on a 4th-and-6 play from the Warrior 26 with 4:31 left in the half.
Sophomore defensive back Taylor Cookston intercepted a SACA pass on the Warriors next play from scrimmage at the FCS 46. The Paladins drove the ball to the 18 on seven plays, but Furse’ pass fell incomplete on a 4th-and-two play.
Wilson recovered a fumble on the next play from scrimmage for the Warriors, and senior running back/linebacker Robert Germaine scored on a 3-yard TD run five plays later with 20.4 seconds left in the half.
In the second half, both senior defensive lineman Trace Sells and Depew recovered fumbles for the Paladins.
Lantz closed out the scoring for the Paladins on a 22-yard run with 2:40 left in the third quarter. That score came two plays after the Paladins defense stopped the Warriors 4 yards short on 4th-and-9 from 26-yard-line with 3:35 left in the third.
SACA answered that score with a 65-yard drive that ended with a 24-yard touchdown run with 1:10 remaining in the quarter. FCS stopped the two-point conversion run attempt to leave the score 40-6.
On Friday, the Paladins gained 290 yards on 50 carries and finished with 60 yards passing. Wilson collected 42 yards on three carries, Depew added 36 yards on six attempts and Germaine finished with 19 yards on five carries.
FCS used four quarterbacks in the game: Furse, who went 3-for-6 for 49 yards, Kadi, sophomore Travis Kinney and freshman Jackson Webb. Kadi completed one pass for 11 yards.
Linneen made one catch for 23 yards, Lantz grabbed one for 17, Furse had one for 11 and sophomore receiver Hunter Bryant made one catch for nine.
Chadwick was pleased with the results this season.
“It takes time to rebuild,” he said. “We hope to get better next year. 5-5 is a great start. It’s not 6-4 or 10-0, but we will take it.”
Juniors like Hart, Linneen and Kadi will be keys to continued improvement next season. “They are quiet leaders,” Chadwick said. “We will need them all to step up in 2012 and lead by example.”
The seniors playing their last game included Furse, Germaine, Lantz, Bo Ibsen, Jacob Miller, Sells, Trent Van Pelt, Bryce Wells and Aaron Wilson.