Northside Christian and Cambridge Christian have many things in common.
Both programs want to win a state and title and both schools have been coached by Bob Dare.
On Friday night, the two teams will meet in the Class 2A region final. Host Cambridge Christian (9-0) beat Northside Christian (9-2) in last year’s region semifinal, 19-14. This time around, Cambridge will be the road team.
Dare has been the man in charge of the Lancers since 2009, the year after his dismissal from Northside Christian. He spent 21 years there previously as the head coach.
Cambridge Christian finished 12-1 last season and appeared in the 2A state championship before being overwhelmed by University Christian 61-16. This season, the Lancers are back on the undefeated route.
For Cambridge, junior quarterback Jaylin Jackson says nothing is different at all for his group this season, “we all know what we are in these playoffs to do.”
Jackson has 1,820 yards from scrimmage and 26 touchdowns (14 passing, 12 rushing). The dual-threat quarterback says he’s expecting the Mustangs to come out and play a great and physical game.
Another key junior, running back Andrew Cunningham has 21 total offers. His latest came from East Carolina last month. On the season, he has 1,400 yards and 20 touchdowns (17 rushing, 3 receiving).
He’s expecting a “dog fight.”
“We know Northside very well from over the past years,” Cunningham said. “We can use that to our advantage because we’ve played them so much over the years, we know what they run, what players they have. We are expecting a hard fought game between them and us.”
Cambridge Christian owns a 4-1 record against the Mustangs all-time. The lone loss came in 2014, 26-22 at Northside Christian. Jackson and Cunningham were both freshmen that season.
On the Northside Christian sideline, senior linebacker Tah’shim Knight is a leader for his team. He holds 10 offers and has been a mainstay on the Mustangs defense over the past couple of seasons for head coach Mike Alstott.
“We are expecting to have a good game on all three phrases,” Knight said. “We are going to do everything in our power to win.”
The Lancers feel that their group is something special.
“We are legit brothers,” Cunningham said. “I know a football team is supposed to be a brotherhood for every team in America, but for us, we have the true brotherhood. We just don’t say it, we actually are. All 42 of us all hang out.”
Jackson calls this team one of the closest he’s ever been on.
“We are brothers and we all are coming out and playing our hearts out,” he said.
Jackson says his coaching staff has been telling his team to play smart and fundamentally sound.
Cunningham, who doubles as a defensive back is aiming to protect against the pass and get off to an early lead. He says his coaches have been telling him all week that they can’t let Northside hang with them.
For the Mustangs, Knight says Alstott and his staff have told them to “do our jobs and when adversity hits just keep playing our game.”
The Lancers are without two key defensive starters in senior Zach Froelich and junior Caleb Young, guys that Cunningham called the best players on defense.
“I feel like it makes us play even harder, to play for them, this year’s team has more of a dog in them,” Cunningham said about playing for his injured teammates. “We’re a team that’s going to punch first. Before we let someone punch us in the face and then we retaliate back, it’s a totally different team.”
Cunningham says Cambridge is going to come out in the region final with pure heart and a relentless mentality.
Knight says it would mean everything if the Mustangs could win a state title this year. “That’s the main reason we play”, he says.
Northside Christian will have a slight edge to start the game since it’s on their home turf. Senior quarterback and Purdue commit Griffin Alstott is a dangerous player. His favorite target, senior wideout Demetrius Jackson can break one at any moment.
The Lancers have Jackson and Cunningham featured with athletes Aaron Pierre, J’Kobi Reddick and Derrick Powell Jr. Cambridge has been there before and this team is so determined.
I expect a tough battle between these two foes. I think Cambridge comes out fired up and keeps pace with Northside. Ultimately, it will come down to who can make one last stop. I give the Lancers the slim victory with Jackson and Cunningham running the show.
Jake Perper is the scout for Prep Sports Scouting. Make sure to follow along for all the updates on Twitter: @JakePerper.