By CLINT FOSTER
Everything is going according to plan. The Community Christian School Warriors (4-3) have won three straight and take their first winning record of the season into the most important part of their schedule.
In the words of Gandalf the White in The Lord of the Rings: “The board is set, the pieces are moving.”
We come to it at last, the Warriors’ district slate, which begins today against arguably the single toughest team on the CCS schedule: the Azle Christian Fighting Crusaders (5-1-1), 7 p.m., at Azle Christian Field.
The Warriors are as prepared as they will ever be for the test that awaits them in Azle. Fresh off a 65-25 victory of the Fort Worth Hill School Hawks, CCS is running the ball with authority and relying on multiple skill players to create scoring opportunities. As head coach Bryan Horton said, CCS will need everyone to have a big game if they want to have a chance against the Crusaders.
“They’re in a good spot going forward,” Horton said of his team. “They know what they’re looking at. In district, you’ve got three dogfights, three tough games and Azle, obviously, is the toughest. We’ve talked all year, we want to win two games in district. I don’t really care which two games we win. But I think everyone understands if we beat Azle, we’re talking about winning three games. We’re getting our mind right to go out and play our best game of the season.”
Luckily for the Warriors, they may be on pace to do just that. CCS had two backs gain over 100 yards against Hill with Isaiah Brazeal toting 11 carries for 153 yards and three touchdowns and freshman sensation Levi Knowles falling just short of the 200-yard mark with 192 yards on 16 carries and two touchdowns.
It was Knowles’ third-straight 100-plus-yard performance and fifth overall this season. Even Sammy Brazeal got in on the rushing action, plunging into the endzone three times on just four carries.
But CCS’ playmakers were not limited to the ground game last week. Joby Bradshaw racked up 214 yards and two touchdowns returning kickoffs against the Hawks. Horton said it was good to see Bradshaw make those plays because although he is one of the Warriors’ best athletes, he has been “handcuffed” to an extent playing quarterback in a run-heavy offense.
“Joby likes to make plays,” Horton said. “They’re kicking away from Levi, they’re kicking away from Isaiah and so Joby responds against Hill School. After Hill scored their last touchdown, I told him in the huddle, ‘If you want to score six more points, you’ve got to do it right here on this kickoff, because otherwise we’re running the clock out.’ Joby took that kick and didn’t hesitate, he went all the way down the field with it. You can’t argue with that.”
For all the Warriors success over the last few weeks, it will all come to a head in Azle. The Crusaders present a challenge truly unlike any other they’ve yet seen. But that’s not to say Horton has not put CCS in the best possible position.
The Hill game allowed the perfect opportunity for CCS to practice a new scheme of focusing in on stopping one player. Against the Hawks, it was Demetrion Amie. Horton’s defense successfully contained him through a combination of double-teams and man coverage by Isaiah Brazeal. Against Azle, the same principal will apply, but instead of Amie, the Warriors improving defense will be tasked with stopping one of the best six man receivers in the state: Jake Bartell. Horton hopes Isaiah is up to the challenge.
“We’re looking to see if Isaiah can do some things; go athlete-on-athlete and see if he can kind of contain him, see if we can force some of these other kids to beat us,” he said. “I don’t have the kids for a zone and (Bartell will) eat us up in any kind of zone we run. The big difference between Hill School and Azle is that Azle’s got some other kids that are going to be able to haul in passes and respond. It’s going to be a tough battle. Azle’s going to score 60 points on us. I’m counting on us matching up and running the ball... I’m hoping to win 62-60.”
It’s a long shot, but it may just happen. This CCS team is developing a pedigree. They are undefeated in road games this season and have already pulled one shocking upset on the road against Saint Jo in late September. After all, stranger things have happened in the world of sports. Horton’s goal is clear.
“My goal in this game is to make it a dogfight,” he said. “These guys want to beat Azle. This is one of those teams that is not only talented at every position, but those kids are smart and they work hard. We have to go do what we need to do on offense, make plays and not give them stuff. If we do that, we’ll make it a dogfight and I really feel like if we make it a dogfight, if we go in there and bang heads with them for four quarters, we’ve got as good a chance as anybody to surprise them. They’re expecting to run over us. If we play our best game, we’ve got a chance.”
Win or lose, CCS has the opportunity to make a statement in this game. And in Horton’s words, that would put everybody else on notice that the second place team in TCAF District 3 doesn’t necessarily reside outside Mineral Wells.