By Todd Lamberth:
The 2017 season was a history-making year in many ways for the Grace Christian Academy Lions.
Rusty Smith’s squad entered the year with five total wins in two years of 11-on-11 football. In the program’s third season, they’ve already surpassed that total and set two more program milestones.
Franklin Grace (6-4) made it to the playoffs for the first time this season; finishing third in the competitive region 5-1A, but the Lions didn’t stop there.
Smith’s squad traveled to Wayne County (7-3) last Friday night and came away with a 64-24 win over a team that made it to the 1A semi-finals last year.
“It is huge for the future of our program to be able to make the playoffs and then to get a win on the road,” Smith said. “Being able to rebound from a rough start of the year to where we are now is really awesome to be a part of. These boys have done a great job doing the hard things along the way to get to where we are now.”
After starting the season 2-4, the Lions reeled off three straight wins in region play to finish the season 5-4 and seal the program’s first playoff birth.
One of the biggest factors in the season’s turnaround is the team’s large senior class being determined to have a better final season.
“Our seniors have done a great job down the stretch of leading our team,” Smith said. “It truly is their team and where they go, we go. It has been awesome to see how they have decided to do the little things that matter down the stretch.”
One of those seniors is quarterback and defensive back Austin Amor. The senior has thrown for over 1,400 yards this season and has accounted for 30 scores.
That includes his 351 yards of total offense in Friday night’s playoff win. Amor threw for 184 yards and two touchdowns, rushed for 167 more yards and another five scores, as well returning a fumble for a score.
Smith, a former Tennessee Titans quarterback, knows what a special player he has in Amor, not only in his playmaking abilities, but also as a teammate.
“Austin is an incredibly dynamic player that is a lot of fun to watch. He can truly do some special things, but he knows just as much as anyone, that without the other guys on the team, he wouldn’t be able to do half of what he is doing.
“Our success has truly been a team effort, with a lot of guys contributing in so many ways that don’t get the attention, and Austin does a great job of being appreciative of those guys and showing them that at any given moment.”
After the program’s first playoff win, Smith knows a second one will be hard to come by. The Lions return to Cornersville (10-1) on Friday in a week three rematch, a game that Cornersville won 39-15. That win would begin the Bulldogs’ nine game win streak on their way to winning region 5-1A.
Smith knows his Lions will need to continue their solid play if they want to advance to the TSSAA state quarterfinals.
“Cornersville is a very good football team with a very good coaching staff. Coach Randolph has done a fantastic job of building that program into what they are this season, and if possible, they have only gotten better as the season went on. We are going to need a good week of preparation and play a very clean game on Friday night to be able to compete.”
Both teams are coming off of 40-plus point wins in their first round matchups. Friday’s rematch in Cornersville is set to begin at 7 p.m.