BY CHIP CIRILLO | PHOTO BY DEB SCALLY
No. 1 vs. No. 2. Both unbeaten. Both boast major-college prospects.
This showdown is as good as it gets for second-ranked Christ Presbyterian Academy and No. 1 Lausanne, which visits the Lions in a Division II-AA semifinal Friday night.
“To have Lausanne come in with a 30-something-game winning streak and one of the best players in the state, maybe one of the best running backs of all time to play in the state of Tennessee and a coach that does a great job (is exciting),” CPA coach Ingle Martin said.
“You’ve got to beat the best if you want to be the best, and right now they’re the best team. As soon as we have them up here on Friday, we’ll get to see where we stand.”
Lausanne (11-0) certainly stands at the top now after winning 38 straight games, including the past two state titles.
Eric Gray is the Lynx’s all-everything running back. A two-time Mr. Football and the 2017 Gatorade Tennessee Player of the Year, the Michigan commit holds the state record with 137 career touchdowns.
“This is my 30th year of coaching and he is the best overall back I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach,” Lynx coach Kevin Locastro said. “The great thing about him is he’s one of our best practice players. He’s not a guy that’s arrogant. He’s humble about his success.”
Gray also gets it done in the classroom with a 3.4 grade point average and a 24 ACT score. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound senior has rushed for 2,363 yards and 39 TDs this season.
CPA linebacker Kane Patterson, a Clemson commit, will be on the other side of the ball trying to contain Gray. A difficult assignment, considering Gray averages 11.3 yards per carry and 214.8 per game.
“I’ve heard a lot about Eric Gray and his stats really speak for himself and how talented they are,” said Patterson, who believes Gray will repeat as Mr. Football and Gatorade Player of the Year. “It sounds like he can really just do it all. He’s probably the most talented person that I’ve played in my high school career, so I’m really excited for the challenge that he brings this week.”
Patterson and Gray will be East teammates at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 6 in San Antonio, Texas.
Gray rushed for 3,151 yards and 45 TDs as a junior and 2,215 yards and 38 TDs as a sophomore.
The last time Martin and Locastro met the CPA coach was a junior quarterback at Montgomery Bell Academy and Locastro was coaching Christian Brothers in 1999.
Martin led MBA (12-0) to the state title that November day with a 49-15 win as he was named offensive MVP after passing for 170 yards and running for three TDs at Vanderbilt Stadium.
Jonas Rodriguez was MBA’s star running back that year and he now coaches Evangelical Christian, the team Lausanne beat in last week’s quarterfinals.
“They didn’t treat us very nice that night, but they had one of the best high school football teams that I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach against,” Locastro said. “They were really, really good.”
Martin has done a good job grooming CPA quarterback Ryan Eledge, a senior who has passed for 2,050 yards and 26 TDs with only three interceptions.
“Not a lot of teams have put a lot of points up against them,” Eledge said of Lausanne. “They’ve got a couple of good d-linemen and a linebacker and a couple good DBs who are all going to college, so it’s a good challenge.”
It might be a wild shootout since Lausanne is averaging 46.1 points and CPA is averaging 41.2 per game. CPA allows 17.3 per game and Lausanne yields 16.4.
“(CPA) runs a trio of running backs and they’re all nice-sized kids (who) run the ball extremely hard,’ Locastro said. “The quarterback throws the ball well.”
CPA wide receiver Noah Henderson, a Mr. Football finalist, has caught 81 passes for 1,171 yards and 14 TDs. The junior has five offers, including Army and Air Force.
Lausanne, a sixth-year program, has vaulted to the top quickly.
“We just had a group of young kids that bought into our process and that’s taking caring of small things and paying attention to detail,” Locastro said. “If you do that, you lay a foundation that you can do great things.”
The Lynx return 12 starters, six on both sides of the ball, from the 2017 state champions.
“We’ve got eight or nine guys right now with (college) offers in the senior class,” said Locastro, who runs a multiple spread offense that is like Auburn’s scheme.
Locastro said CPA has better depth and plays at a faster pace.
Lynx quarterback Sky Forest (6-3, 215) has an offer from Austin Peay.
Gray almost transferred to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., in January, but he decided to remain at Lausanne. He’s a big-play back who can strike quickly.
“He can touch the ball at any given moment and bump us into the goal posts,” Locastro said. “So we’ve got a home-run hitter in him. He’s really charismatic and gets along with everybody, and is just a real good person to have walking your halls.”
Martin said Gray has “next-level speed,” durability and a good line in front of him.
“He has the ability to make people miss, so you’ve got to tackle him when you get the chance,” Martin said.