Donelson Christian Academy’s dream season came to an abrupt end at home Friday night as the Wildcats fell 33-17 to the University School of Jackson.

“They were better than we were,” DCA coach Paul Wade said after the game.

Donelson Christian came out of the gates strong when Jon Lewis took the first play from scrimmage 57 yards for a touchdown to give the Wildcats a 7-0 lead in the opening minute of the game.

“They played base defense on play one, and that’s why we scored,” Wade said.

It appeared as if DCA was going to take control of the game as it had for most of the games this season when the Wildcats forced a Bruins’ three-and-out on their first possession.

However, DCA couldn’t capitalize after the drive stalled out near midfield. USJ received the ball back on its own 42 after a partially blocked punt sailed out of bounds. The Bruins got down to the DCA 3-yard line after an 18-yard Myles Mayo rush. Steele Haynes capped off the drive with a 3-yard touchdown rush to tie the game 7-7 late in the first.

A penalty on the last play of the first on USJ caused an untimed down that Lewis took advantage of with a 27-yard run that went down to the USJ 2-yard line.

The Wildcats started the second on the doorstep of another touchdown, but Lewis lost 10 yards on two plays, and a batted down pass forced the Wildcats to settle for a Braden Ducharme 29-yard field goal to give them a slight 10-7 advantage early in the second.

USJ drove down the field but stalled out inside DCA territory. The Bruins attempted a fake field goal, but Riley Stanton tackled Ben Pledger short of the first down marker, and the Wildcats took back over on downs.

Both teams went three-and-out on their next two possessions, and at halftime, DCA took a 10-7 lead into the locker room.

In the second half, USJ took its first lead of the game on the first drive when quarterback Andrew Smith snuck it in from 1 yard out to give his team a 13-10 lead early in the third.

A Jacob Cook dropped pass on third and 9 forced DCA to punt the ball back to the Bruins. However, the punt only went 12 yards past the line of scrimmage, and the Bruins took over on DCA’s 33.

Mayo converted a third and 2 with a 25-yard touchdown run to give USJ a 20-10 lead with 3:17 left in the third.

DCA fought back into the game on the next possession when Cook redeemed himself by catching a 46-yard touchdown pass from Gaines to cut the deficit to 20-17 with 44 seconds left in the third.

In the first drive of the final quarter, it appeared as if DCA was in prime position to get the ball back when USJ faced a third-and-13 situation near midfield, but an 18-yard pass from Smith to Raleigh Seals gave the Bruins the ball on the Wildcats’ 2-yard line. Mayo scored on the next play, and after the failed two-point attempt, the Bruins led 26-17 with 9:10 left in the game.

DCA went three-and-out on the next possession, and on fourth and 6 from its own 40, decided to punt the ball away.

The Bruins put the game on ice when Haynes scored his second rushing touchdown of the game from 1 yard out. USJ led 33-17, and that’s where the score stood as DCA knelt out the clock on the next possession to advance USJ to the state championship Game where the Bruins will face Davidson Academy, the defending state champion.

“We knew that we would have to have big things happen for us on both sides of the ball for us to have a chance to be in it, and at times, we had those,” Wade said. “They were bigger and faster. It started going downhill in the middle of the third quarter, but then we came back and threw the pass and got a little excitement, but we were a little toast. We were never in this situation before, and that probably played into it. But just the excitement of this game knowing that we come out of halftime, and we were 24 minutes away from going to the state championship game, and to have it snowball away real quick is hard.”

The loss was the final game for the 2020 season for DCA and the final game for the DCA seniors – Jon and Jordan Lewis, Riley Stanton, Tillman Payne, Max McConnell and Camren Badgett. Wade credited the success of the senior class to their ability to handle adversity they faced throughout their high school football careers.

“I think it’s a true testament to those guys for hanging in there. Jon and Jordan were little 100-pound freshmen on that team. Riley Stanton played a few snaps and played baseball for a few years before coming back. Tillman Payne was on that team. We added Camren this year, who played as an eighth grader, but this is his first year back, so we had some inexperienced seniors this year in terms of reps. But we’re just proud of those guys and happy they were a part of this program.”

As the season came to a close, Wade said he’ll remember this team and this season for the adversity of the tornado in March and the pandemic and how his team was able to handle it and have a memorable season.

“They persevered. We went week to week not knowing if we were going to get to play. We lost multiple guys along the way trying to deal with COVID, not knowing if we were going to get to play [at home] because of the field. They just persevered a lot, and it would have been a perfect storybook ending for us to pull this off and go to the championship next week. But you know, sometimes storybook endings don’t always end like that. Unfortunately, we were on the short end of the stick, and next year we’ll be back and ready to go.”

BOX SCORE

University School of Jackson 33, Donelson Christian 17

TEAM STATISTICS

RUSHING YARDS—USJ 240, DCA 125.

PASSING YARDS—USJ 74, DCA 84.

TOTAL YARDS—USJ 314, DCA 209.

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING—USJ, Myles Mayo 25-152, Steele Haynes 10-56, Andrew Smith 8-21, Logan Antwire 2-11. DCA, Jon Lewis 17-115, Ashton Jones 2-13, Bradford Gaines 1-(-3).

PASSING—USJ, Andrew Smith 13-17-74-0-0. DCA, Bradford Gaines 4-12-84-1-0.

RECEIVING—USJ, Drew Morris 4-32, Eli Robinson 2-18, Raleigh Seals 1-18, Myles Mayo 2-10, Steele Haynes 4-(-4). DCA, Jacob Cook 2-59, Dayton Sneed 1-14, Joe Sims 1-11.

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