(T-G Photo by Chris Siers)
At the beginning of the season, it stood to reason this year would be a rebuilding year and any thought of the playoffs would be out of reach for such a predominantly young team.
Not the case.
Just earning a trip to the TSSAA class 2A playoffs wasn't enough for the Champions. On Friday night, the Champs (7-4) knocked off Watertown (7-4), keeping their season alive with a thrilling 24-21 road victory.
As if coming into the game as underdogs with a roster full of underclassmen wasn't enough, the win on Friday night will go down in the Champion history books. The win marks the first road playoff victory of any team in Cascade's history.
"Coming into the year with all these underclassmen, they've done something that no team has ever done at Cascade. This is the first playoff win on the road," said Champion coach Kenny Parker.
With a team chalked full of youngsters, it was the Champion seniors who rose to the occasion on Friday night.
"We always say 'Your season is always dictated on your seniors.' If your seniors play good, your team generally plays well," Parker said.
Needless to say, the Champs played pretty well on Friday night.
When needed, seniors Matthew Combs, Cody Smith, Jake Thomas, and Cody Gann each made crucial plays to guide the team to the victory.
Early on, the game had a bit of a shootout feel with a quick-striking Purple Tiger offense that found its first score barely 45 seconds into the game.
The up-tempo pace of the game caught the Champs off guard which allowed the Purple Tigers to stroll into the end zone five plays after receiving the opening kickoff.
Freshman running back Luke Turner bolted 18 yards into the end zone for the first TD of the night with 11:08 left to play in the opening frame.
(T-G Photo by Chris Siers ) [Order this photo]
Even with the score, Cascade shrugged off the electrified crowd and energized Purple Tigers and proceeded to drive the ball into the red zone on the shoulders of sophomore sensation Creed Rose.
Rose literally carried the team to the first score on six runs for 55 yards, including his first 2-yard touchdown run.
Knowing how quickly the home team could punch the ball into the end zone, the Champs needed to create an opportunity, rather than wait for their turn at putting the offense on the field.
Opportunity came knocking when Watertown fumbled the ball into Champion hands on the 35.
Rose proceeded to put the ball in the end zone seven plays later on a 12-yard gallop to put the Champs up 14-7.
Watertown utilized its speedy offense when the Purple Tigers knotted the game at 14 points apiece with 6:32 left in the first half.
Turner notched his second TD of the night when he bolted 35 yards into the end zone.
Cascade looked to answer on the next possession, but struggled to convert a do-or-die fourth down attempt when Rose was stopped short of picking up the first down.
During the drive, Rose took a shot to his leg, which he had been nursing with a lingering injury for the last few weeks.
Following his injury, he was seemingly sidelined for the remainder of the game.
While the sophomore carried the team through most of the first half, Combs stepped up when his team needed him.
With Watertown on the march, Combs came up with a clutch, 42-yard pick six to put the Champs back in control heading into the half with a 21-14 advantage.
The teams battled fairly evenly in the third quarter, with neither squad being able to post more points on the board.
Cascade, however, began to move the ball in the fourth only to have the drive stall on the 43, forcing a punt.
Watertown took over possession and charged deep into Cascade's territory and that's when the defense came up with another huge play.
Cascade lineman Aaron Parker picked off Ty Jobe's pass and gave the Champs new life and a chance to put the game away for good.
With Rose out of the game, senior running back Cody Smith put the weight of the team on his back and pushed the Champs into solid field position.
That's when Rose shrugged off the pain and reentered the game.
(T-G Photo by Chris Siers) [Order this photo]
Working in conjunction with Smith, the two worked the ball down to the Watertown six, but couldn't finish the drive with a touchdown.
Enter freshman kicker Trent Sutton.
Sutton split the uprights on the 24-yarder, putting Cascade ahead 24-14 with what ended up being the game-winning score with just under 1:30 to play.
With a sense of desperation flooding the Purple Tigers, Watertown rode the momentum of two plays to the end zone to trim the Cascade lead to 24-21 with 1:09 left in the game.
Needing to only take a knee to run out the remaining time left on the clock, Cascade fumbled the ball in victory formation, which gave Watertown another chance.
"We were in victory and they barked out our cadence. Our center snapped it prematurely. We've got to overcome that," Parker said.
With no time outs left, the Purple Tigers were forced to resort to passing the ball, but couldn't break through the Champion defense, turning the ball over on downs with 33 seconds left.
This time, Cascade successfully took a knee, and punched its ticket to the second round of the TSSAA playoffs in the process.
While the offense produced when needed, Parker feels the defense helped put the team in position to win the game.
"My hat's off to our defense. They had the ball in the red zone two or three times and we held them out.
"We got a lot of turnovers tonight and we didn't turn the ball over tonight except there at the end in the victory formation," he said.
Like Parker mentioned, perhaps the biggest key to the Champion victory was winning the turnover battle.
(T-G Photo by Chris Siers) [Order this photo]
While Combs and Smith stepped up and dominated the stats sheet, Parker also credited the boys up front for creating the opportunities for the offense to flourish.
"You saw Cody and you saw Combs, but something you didn't see were Jake Thomas and Cody Gann playing tough inside," he said.
Thomas and Gann helped create the opportunities which allowed the Champs to pile up 258 yards on the ground.
Rose led the Champs, accruing 145 yards on 23 carries and 2 TDs to his credit. Smith, who took over as the primary source of offense when Rose was sidelined, had 83 yards on 17 carries. Combs ran the ball once for nine yards and had three catches for 38 yards.
While the win ensures another week of life in the 2012 season, the Champs' road to round three has a fairly large roadblock in their path--Friendship Christian.
Friendship, the defending state champions, return a veteran roster that ranks No. 1 in the state with an impressive 9-1 overall record.
"We will have Friendship next week. They're defending state champions and they're ranked No. 1 in the state again this year. They're very fundamentally sound year in and year out," Parker said.
But the No. 1 ranking doesn't do much to deter the Champs. Cascade went to Watertown as the underdogs and was able to pick up the win. The Champs will get back to work and focus on another upset victory, and just maybe earn a trip to the third round of the playoffs.
"We're going to enjoy this one and then we'll go back to work and get our kids ready to play," Parker said.
Cascade 14 7 0 3 -- 24
Watertown 7 7 0 7 -- 21
W -- Luke Turner 18 run (Cameron Jennings kick) 11:08.
C -- Creed Rose 2 run (Trent Sutton kick) 8:44.
C -- Rose 12 run (Sutton kick) 4:29.
W -- Turner 35 run (Jennings kick) 6:32.
C -- Matthew Combs 46 int (Sutton kick) 2:26.
C -- Sutton 24 FG 1:26.
W -- Cooper Jacobsen 14 pass from Ty Jobe (Jennings kick) 1:09.