CHARLOTTE – Charlotte Christian has owned Providence Day of late, winning 13 straight games in the series, but the Knights’ 10-7 victory over the Chargers on Oct. 25 was unlike any of the previous.
The Knights struggled to run the ball. At times, they struggled to contain Providence Day running back Nickel Fields, but they did quite literally just enough to win. And coach Jason Estep, who has guided the Knights to the past three title games and to the past two championships, knows right now that’s good enough as they earn No. 2 seed in the NCISAA Division I playoffs.
“We were able to be smart, play the field position game and eliminate turnovers,” he said. “At this time of year, hey, if you win by 1, it’s a win, right? So we’ll take it.”
While the offense had its limitations, running back Henry Rutledge carried the load and scored the Knights’ only touchdown.
Rutledge finished with 26 rushes for 176 yards and the score, but that was almost all of the offense.
Quarterback Matthew Tuomala, in just his second game back from injury, struggled, completing 7-of-12 passes for just 29 yards, although he didn’t commit a turnover.
“We ran the ball well and they adjusted to that,” Estep said. “For whatever reason, we did not feel comfortable passing the ball. We should have. Matthew has limited reps. He wasn’t seeing it like we thought he’d see it, so we have to get better at practice and we’ll clean it up.”
With the offense struggling outside of Rutledge, the defense was more than up to the task.
The Chargers had just 133 yards of offense, and Chargers quarterback Cody Cater was 5-of-19 for just 30 yards.
Nickel Fields ran for 99 yards, but the Knights held tough with Phillip Slaughter (10 tackles), Caleb Stephens (10 tackles), Brett Adams (nine tackles) and Greyson Cadd and Jimmy Bailey (eight each) having standout games.
“Hats off to our defense,” Estep said. “They played with that bend but don’t break mentality because they hit us with some plays for sure.”
In the game, Adams was lost for the season with a knee injury, which is big defensively and on offense where he plays tight end and filled in at quarterback.
But the Knights will move on and face Charlotte Latin, who enters 7-2, although the Knights beat them easily earlier this season.
The teams know each other well, so the game will likely come down to turnovers, defense and field position.
Estep said he was frustrated by some of his team’s penalties and at times lack of discipline. One unsportsmanlike penalty was still on his mind after the game because he knows if they are going to reach their fourth straight final and third straight title, those are the mistakes that can cost games.
“I challenged our guys from an attention to detail aspect because we’ve been inconsistent with it this year. I think those guys were challenged by that and that was good,” Estep said. “I get frustrated sometimes because some of the things we teach, we don’t do, and some of the things we don’t teach, they do. It’s frustrating sometimes, and at this point in the season, we have to be more disciplined than that.”