CMA atop ISAA heap after winning title game!! By: Tom Didato
By: Casey Robinson on Nov 22, 2018 | Categories: Athletics
Last Friday was more quiet than usual as the Camden Military Academy football team went about their final walk-through for the following day’s trip to Tennessee to meet Trinity Academy for the Independent School Athletic Association conference title.
In this instance, the less chatty, the better.
Calling it one of the most focused and serious walk-throughs that he can remember, Spartans’ head coach Will Rice felt good about his team heading into Saturday’s game against the Knights who, earlier this year, pinned a 23-12 loss on CMA in what would be the final defeat suffered by the Spartans.
CMA turned the tables on Trinity Academy with a 23-12 victory to sew up the program’s first conference championship of any kind since 2010 while finishing a 6-2 campaign by winning its final four contests capped by Saturday’s title victory in Elizabethton, Tenn.
“To be quite honest,” Rice said, “Friday, when we did our walk-through it was quiet. You can tell we were focused. We felt really good about that. Then, they were focused on the way down there.”
The trip to Trinity Academy’s home field took four and a half hours by bus. Rice said his players handled the lengthy trip well and used the time to focus on the task at hand.
The game did not open well for the Spartans, who fumbled at their own 40 in the first quarter with the Knights recovering the loose ball and turning it into a five-yard scoring run for a quick 7-0 advantage which held up through the first quarter.
The Spartans took the lead in the second stanza with freshman Hunter Keltner, who was making his first start at quarterback, spotting James Meade with a 12-yard scoring pass. Zach Yucis ran in the two-point conversion and early in the second quarter, the guests had the lead for keeps at 8-7.
Having had three weeks between a 55-12 win over Gladiator Sports Academy and the championship game allowed the CMA staff time to prepare Keltner for what was a winning debut behind center.
“For a freshman making his first start in a championship game, I thought he did remarkably well,” Rice said of Keltner. “He made some mistakes, as any freshman would do, but he did some good work. He directed the offense pretty well. He didn’t have that ‘deer in the headlights’ look. He was focused. He was sharp.”
To help take some of the pressure off Keltner, the Spartans altered the offense and ran several double-passes, a tailback sweep pass and did some different things to keep the Knights guessing on defense. “Our offense changed some. We simplified it, somewhat, with the passing game but (Keltner) still ran the veer. He did a good job,” Rice said.
In the first meeting between the two sides, it was the Knights who used the big play to leave Spartan Field with a victory. This time around, CMA returned the favor.
Minutes before the end of the first half, Justin Wilson broke loose on a 75-yard scoring run which gave the visitors a 14-7 halftime lead.
“They hurt us the last time we played them with some big plays in the passing game. We hit them with one big play with the pass and one big play with the run this time,” Rice said. “We had the bigger plays this time and, that may have been the difference.
“Our defense gave us good field position in the second quarter and then, we got a huge run from Justin Wilson.”
The Spartans also held the upper hand against Trinity at halftime in their first meeting, something which Rice and his staff reminded their players about during the intermission.
“We told them at halftime that we were up on Trinity at halftime the first time we played them and that we had to come out strong. We did that,” Rice said. “We came out strong with a long drive and even though we didn’t get any points out of it, we hammered them.”
The only points scored in the third quarter came on a 50-yard Trinity touchdown pass which drew the hosts within 14-13 after CMA stopped the PAT try.
Using the element of surprise, the Spartans scored the final touchdown of the afternoon when tailback Malcolm Hyppolite took a handoff from Keltner, stopped and fired a 55-yard strike to Garhett Koethke. Keltner would run in the two-point conversion to hike the advantage to 22-13 heading into what turned out to be a scoreless fourth quarter thanks to interceptions from Hyppolite and Wilson.
Rice said his defense wanted to keep pressuring the Knights but did so by employing a new tactic on Saturday.
“The last game, we blitzed the fool out of them; we blitzed almost every down,” he said of a defense which was led by James Meade, who registered three sacks Saturday afternoon. “This time, for the most part, we blitzed or stunted on probably 98 percent of every snap but, we changed it up with different blitzes that they had not seen. We slanted to their strengths which worked out pretty well.”
Rice said having faced Trinity already in the season and having more time to prepare for the second meeting allowed the CMA staff to get to work on and smooth out any rough edges while adding a few new wrinkles on both sides of the football.
“We were better prepared for this game,” Rice said. “Offensively, we did some different things. They’re like us on defense; they bring pressure on almost every snap. We were able to catch them with some big plays. Having (three) weeks to get ready helped us out.
“There were a lot of things going against us on Saturday. We had a four-and-a-half hour bus ride there. We preached it all week that we were where we wanted to be; we were in the championship game. It may not have been where we wanted it; we would have preferred to have played it here. Probably not a lot of people would have given us a chance in that game. It was amazing to see this team grow from August to November.”
The Spartans opened the season with three straight wins including a 30-28 victory over Ware Shoals to give Rice and company a 3-0 record. That win came with a price as Hyppolite, who led the team in rushing and scoring, injured his leg and missed the following game against Great Falls, which handed CMA a 44-22 setback. Two weeks later, the Spartans fell to Trinity Academy in a game in which the effort was there as CMA started getting back its injured players.
“We were beat up in the Ware Shoals game and we played Great Falls the next week and we were down several starters. We didn’t have our starting tailback and we were down two starters in the secondary,” Rice said. “Those things happen.
“We took a step back and regrouped over the break. We came back for the Trinity game and we were ready. The ball just didn’t bounce our way. They had two long pass plays. We had a busted coverage on one and the other, we misjudged the ball. Who knows what could have happened.”
The Spartan football team was allowed to arrive on campus one week before the student population checked in. The CMA staff went old school, having three practices a day in the 100-degreee heat and humidity as the coaching staff tried to get as much in as they could in just a week.
Rice said the week of camp was a bonding experience which paid dividends for a team which, Rice said, got along very well. Things continued to improve for CMA as the season went on and the temperature dropped.
“We told the kids that all this started in August with three-a-days (practices) in 100-degree heat. And, here we are, it may not have been the record that we wanted but, we were in the championship game,” he said of last week’s practice sessions.
“We were a better team in November than we were in August. Some teams grow a little bit and then, don’t continue to improve. I thought that we improved each and every week at something. Were there setbacks? Sure, but we were a much better football team than we were in August. That’s a credit to my coaches. They do a great job and our kids did a great job of listening and buying into it. It was a great effort and a great season. I was proud of all of them.”