By CLINT FOSTER
There’s nothing like a big upset win on the road to spark a team and give them the momentum to push through the rest of their schedule. The Community Christian School Warriors (2-3) got just that when they stormed into St. Jo, near the Oklahoma-Texas border, and beat the St. Jo High Panthers (2-3), 53-34.
It was a game that few expected the Warriors to win. But now, fresh off a fairly dominant upset, CCS hopes to ride that momentum into another road contest at 7 p.m. today against Fort Worth Christian Life Private.
As the best coaches do, head coach Bryan Horton did not savor the Warriors upset over the Panthers long before he was back in the film room. He said there were a few mistakes that he did not like, including a lot of penalties early and an inability by the Warriors to cover the deep ball.
But truth be told, it was an overall impressive win for CCS in which they succeeded in almost every phase of the game.
“I don’t know how we won that game,” Horton said. “St. Jo (is a) tough team. I don’t think anyone expected us to win.”
But win they did, and that’s why they play the games.
The biggest contributing factor to the victory was the way CCS was able to exert its will in the running game. The Warriors had two rushers with more than 100 yards. Freshman Levi Knowles continued to wow, racking up 189 yards on 20 carries with four rushing touchdowns running behind Sammy Brazeal’s masterful lead blocking. Isaiah Brazeal then feasted on runs to the outside posting 136 yards on 10 carries and two rushing touchdowns and a 45-yard receiving touchdown for good measure.
“I’m real pleased with what I’m seeing there,” Horton said of his rushing attack that is quickly establishing itself as a force. “There wasn’t much (St. Jo) could do with that. As a whole, there’s a lot to like about the way we played. I was pretty happy from an offensive standpoint.”
Not only were the Warriors able to make significant gains on the ground, but their thunder and lightning running game caused the Panther defense to put five in the box, making them very vulnerable to throws over the top.
CCS employed a quarterback by committee effort, with Joby Bradshaw, Isaiah Brazeal and Landon Payne all making completions. As has been the usual the last few weeks, Bradshaw put up the biggest passing numbers, going 3-for-4 with 78 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, the Warriors played their best game yet. Horton said his defense mostly shut down the Panthers’ tight formation and that the bulk of the points and yards they allowed came on deep passes.
Spread teams have feasted on the CCS pass defense this year, and Horton said the way St. Jo receivers where able to get open downfield is still worrisome. But, Horton also said he is coming to accept that as a reality of the purple and black defense and make up for it in other facets of the game.
“We don’t have a ton of team quickness, so we’re going to give up points,” Horton said. “(But) if you want to beat us, you’ve got to beat us over the top. That’s a low percentage play when you throw the ball 30 yards down field. The big thing for us is to make sure we don’t lose offensive possessions. That was the big difference against North Central Texas (the Warriors last loss, 80-32). It’s tough to score points if you’re not on offense.”
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the St. Jo win is team confidence. The Warriors won a game not many expected them to by playing hard-nosed, physical football.
Now CCS has a chance to reach .500 for the first time this year against a Christian Life team that has posted a similar record to CCS against mostly inferior competition. It’s a game Horton fully expects to win.
“I’m looking forward to this game,” he said. “On paper, we should be the favorite, but they don’t play them on paper. We’re going to have to go in and do what we did against St. Jo again. I want to see the team that showed up for St. Jo, the team that’s showed up in fourth quarters late in this season, a team I really like. If we do that, we win. I really feel pretty strongly about that.”
Horton explained he and his team have split this season into four sub-seasons: a challenging first four games against mostly superior, measuring-stick opponents, a three-game stretch in the middle against either evenly-matched or under-matched teams, a tough district slate and then (hopefully) the playoffs. Horton said the immediate goal is to go 3-0 in this second leg while continuing to improve in two winnable games against Christian Life and Hill School.
“I’d like to go into district with a 4-3 record, that’s achievable for this ball club,” Horton said. “It’s getting pretty obvious where we’re successful and where we’re not. I’d like to work on both of them.”
The Warriors have established an identity as a physical running team that plays good defense up front. If they can ride their newfound confidence to three-straight wins and a 4-3 record to begin district play against Azle Christian on Oct. 18, CCS could set itself up for a memorable year, punching their ticket for that fourth season and perhaps beyond.