ST. MATTHEWS – St. John’s Christian took aim at its first state football championship in three decades but had to settle for the runner-up trophy for the fourth time in 15 years.
Andrew Jackson Academy rushed for 342 yards on 61 carries and finished the season unbeaten with a 44-28 victory Friday against the Cavaliers in the SCISA 8-man title game played at Calhoun Academy.
It was the fourth championship in five years for the Confederates (13-0). St. John’s Christian finished 10-2, with both losses coming to the physical Andrew Jackson squad.
St. John’s Christian last won a football crown in 1989 when it was known as Lord Berkeley Academy.
“I’m disappointed for this team tonight,” said Cavaliers coach John McCall, whose team lost 32-24 to the Confederates in the regular season. “They really wanted it. They fought hard so I’m proud of the effort. Obviously, it didn’t go the way we wanted it to but we played for the right reason. I just hate it didn’t end in a way they would like.”
If anybody knows how individual Cavaliers players felt, it is McCall.
McCall was a quarterback on the runner-up squads from 2004 and 2005 and an assistant coach in 2012 when the Cavaliers also had a near miss.
An apparent bright future for the program – the Cavs return most of their team for 2020 – didn’t soften the blow for McCall as Andrew Jackson celebrated with the championship trophy in the background.
“Not tonight, but maybe down the road it will,” McCall said.
The Cavaliers were competitive for the better part of three quarters before their championship dreams started to slip away.
Cavaliers quarterback Nai’Ryan Bookert threw a pair of touchdowns to Corey Moraux from 14 and 15 yards out to put St. John’s Christian ahead 14-12 in the second quarter but Andrew Jackson got rolling behind bruising running back Johnathan Schaffer.
Shaffer scored on a 3-yard run to cap a 63-yard drive and added the two-point conversion run to put Andrew Jackson ahead 20-14 with less than a minute left in the first half.
The Confederates doubled their lead to 28-14 on Colyn Peek’s 26-yard touchdown pass to Bryce Hughes with 1:30 left in the third quarter. Schaffer had the two-point conversion run, too.
Schaffer finished off the Cavs with touchdown runs of 32 and 18 yards in the fourth quarter and ended up with 169 rushing yards. His first gave the Confederates a comfortable, 36-14 lead with 8:49 remaining.
Bookert scored on runs of 8 and 47 yards, the latter coming with 2:27 left to make it 44-28.
Andrew Jackson recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock but not without some drama.
A Confederates running back was stripped of the ball near midfield and St. John’s Christian recovered, but the play was blown dead a split second earlier. The Cavaliers sideline came unhinged and unsportsmanlike penalties pushed the Confederates to the SJCA 10, where they took a knee.
Had the recovery stood, the Cavaliers would have needed two touchdowns and two 2-point conversions sandwiched around a successful onside kick.
In the postgame huddle, McCall thanked the senior group for their effort this season in leading the team.
It was the final run for five SJCA players: RB/LB Fletcher Law, lineman Logan Robinson, RB/DL Bryce Ellison, lineman Rochard Tingue and lineman Pedro Texiera.
The Cavaliers return most of their skill players, led by Bookert.