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Covenant Christian gets emotional win

Sashen Staidum (67) and PJ Allridge lead the Covenant Christian Academy Lions onto the field on Friday by carrying the jersey of Caleb Allridge (63), who died earlier in the day. (Photo by Keyon K. Jeff/Correspondent)

The toughest foe the Covenant Christian Academy Lions faced on Friday night was not the Ridgewood Prep Golden Eagles, who they defeated 53-0 on Manning Field at John L. Guidry Stadium.

Instead it was the tragedy that life sometimes brings.

Covenant Christian learned late Friday morning that one of its players, Caleb Allridge, a sophomore offensive and defensive lineman, died earlier in the day.

Lions head coach Blyght Wunstell had to break the sad news to his team.

"It was a tough day for us at CCA. I got a call this morning around 11 (a.m.) that Caleb had gone to live with The Lord. It's like a bomb being dropped on you," Wunstell said. "Me and the coaching staff got the kids into the weight room. It's never easy telling anyone that a fellow brother and loved one passed away. I told them we're going to bond together as one. We're going to be there for each other. We're going to lean on one another and become stronger."

Wunstell credited Caleb's brother PJ with keeping the Lions mentally and emotional together. He spoke to the team prior to the kickoff about how much Caleb loved the school, the football team and the coaches and asked them to play for him. While the Lions soldiered on, it still didn't make the situation any easier.

"It was tragic. It was kind hard for us to try and come out here and play this game, but we fought through it, played for our brother, and we won,", said Sashen Staidum, Caleb's cousin and teammate. "We were very close. I was with him every day at practice. We promised each other we'd be on side of each other on the D-line. We can't do that anymore."

Staidum and PJ Allridge solemnly led the Lions onto the field by carrying the No. 63 jersey Caleb wore. Then Covenant Christian poured its emotions into defeating District 9-1A opponent Ridgewood Prep.

"I was a little concerned. I knew we prepared well all week, but with what had happened, I wasn't sure how we'd come out," Wunstell noted. "I'm proud they came out like they did. They played with emotion and with a sense of urgency."

Covenant Christian (5-4, 4-1 district) scored touchdowns on five first-half possessions, including the game's opening kickoff. Bryce LaFont dashed up the middle, cut toward the sideline and spun pass three would-be tacklers for an 85-yard TD return. Brock Wunstell's point after gave the Lions a 7-0 lead.

In rapid succession, the Lions got 59-yard TD run by Jordan McKay, a 7-yard TD pass from Brock Wunstell to Lenard Calloway and Larry Lasseigne returned a fumble 22 yards for a touchdown to put Covenant Christian ahead 28-0 after the first quarter. The lead could have been larger, but the Lions had three touchdowns negated by penalties.

"We went back to the basics this week. We broke every play down and looked at every front they teams had given us," Blyght Wunstell said. "We were a little confused last week against Country Day. It seemed like sometimes we didn't know how to pick up the blitz. We went over our rules. We went over every front and every blitz that we could think of. We just put it together as a team, and they performed it well."

Early the second quarter, the Lions Benton McDonald blocked a Ridgewood punt, and Chester Johnson recovered it at the Eagles 10. Three plays later Brock Wunstell found Caleb Seitz on a 5-yard TD pass. On the Lions next offensive play, Callan Bourg sprinted 80 yards for a touchdown, giving Covenant Christian a 40-0 halftime advantage.

"We had a breakout not only of injuries, but a major breakout of an eye disease in the last week. We lost our whole backfield," Golden Eagles coach Norman Ryan said. "We tried to succeed with our basic package. We had kids play who never played before."

Covenant Christian eased up in the second half, but Devyn Allen (four carries, 132 yards) still managed to score two rushing touchdown runs. He galloped 13 yards around left end in the third quarter and bulldozed through the Eagles (2-7, 1-4 district) defense on a 35-yard TD in the fourth.

With one game to go, Coach Wunstell said he hopes a win next week against St. Martin's will give Covenant Christian a home first-round playoff game, but he added it won't be easy.

"If we don't beat St. Martin's, I guarantee we'll be on the road," Wunstell said. "We're going to get ready for a St. Martin's team that throws the football, and our pass defense has been pretty weak this year. We're going to have a challenge ahead of us, but we're going to get them ready, and they'll be up to the challenge."