By Bill Sorrell
Lipscomb Academy football coaches have four Super Bowl rings among them and they have a chance to add a Tennessee state championship ring to their collection.
With a 56-13 victory over Evangelical Christian School in the Division 2-AA state semifinals on Friday at ECS, the Mustangs moved on to the state title game on Dec. 3 in Cookeville against Christ Presbyterian Academy.
“We’re not close to done yet,” Lipscomb head coach Trent Dilfer told his team after the victory.
Lipscomb quarterback Luther Richesson said, “Since the beginning the goal has been state championship or bust. The thing that we say all year is that we want to play 672 minutes of football. That is how many minutes it would be to win the state championship. That has been the goal since training camp. Now we are one step closer to make that dream a reality.”
To get that state championship ring, “We’ve got to earn that. We have to get better Saturday morning and work our way to a state championship,” said Dilfer, who quarterbacked the Baltimore Ravens to the Super Bowl championship in 2000.
Lipscomb offensive line coach Grant Williams won a Super Bowl with the New England Patriots in 2001 as an offensive lineman. Glenn Young, assistant defensive line coach, won a Super Bowl playing for the St. Louis Rams in 1999. Luke Richesson, Luther’s father, was strength and conditioning coach for the Denver Broncos when they won the Super Bowl in 2015. He was NFL Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year in 2013.
“Winning a Super Bowl he has got to know a lot about football,” Luther Richesson said of Dilfer. “Every day he passes down that knowledge to me and I am thankful to learn everything about the game through him and the rest of the coaches on our staff are fantastic as well. Coach Dilfer is smart. He has brought in a lot of great coaches as well to surround each other.
“I learned a lot of football from Coach (Trenton) Kirklin (offensive coordinator), Coach (Devin) Arnold (running backs), Coach (Jamie) Graham (wide receivers), Coach (Reilly) Jeffers (tight ends). Everyone is fantastic in this program.”Playing for five NFL teams from 1994-2007, Dilfer said the state semifinal win “feels good but it’s also expected to perform at a certain level.”We prepare with a certain expectation. It’s obviously rewarding but we are not done yet. We’ll celebrate about 12 hours and we will get back to work tomorrow trying to get better. We felt like if we played three phases of complete football and we held true to our core values we would be fine. We are pretty complete. We are very good on special teams, we are very good on defense, we are very good on offense.
“Luther did a really good job pushing the ball down the field and our defense got us the ball back. People forget that you flip the field with great defense. They couldn’t really move the ball. So we were getting the ball with great field position and (that) makes things easy.”
A junior, Richesson completed 10 of 15 passes for 211 yards and three touchdown passes. Lipscomb running back Alex Broome, a semifinalist this year for Tennessee Mr. Football, scored three touchdowns and wide receiver Justin Hughes caught two touchdown passes from Richesson and returned a kickoff 78 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter to give the Mustangs a 35-7 lead.
ECS had just scored its first touchdown on a 27-yard pass from quarterback Jacob Hatcher to Caiden Hill.
‘The kickoff return Justin had really lit a fire under us,” said Broome, who did not expect a 43-point win, describing ECS as a team that knows how to win.
The Eagles won the 2019 state championship and have a loaded roster that includes Dietrick Pennington, an offensive and defensive lineman who is a Clemson commit and is a finalist this year for Tennessee Mr. Football and running back Jalen Greenwood, who, Broome said, “is a heck of a player too.” Greenwood, who was “a little banged up” said Broome, had 6 carries for 21 yards.
The Mustangs, who are 10-2 on the field and advanced to the semifinal game after Lausanne could not play Nov. 13 due to COVID, had a 42-7 halftime lead.
“We would have loved to play Lausanne,” said Richesson. “We felt Lausanne was a really good team. It would have been fun to match up against them. It definitely helped to have one more week to prep for ECS.”
The Mustangs’ defense heeded Richesson’s message.
“The defense played fantastic. They got the ball over and over again. They were so physical. They came down hill and they were hitting hard. I kept telling them to get us the ball back and were going to keep scoring and that is exactly what we did. I can’t emphasize our O-line enough. They played amazing tonight. I had all day to pass the ball,” said Richesson.
A senior, Hughes had a game-high 86 yards receiving on two catches.
“He is a prime time player. He stepped up when it counted the most. He made some big-time catches and it seemed like everything I threw to him it was right in his hands,” said Richesson. “He made an amazing catch every time. He is blazing fast. It’s hard for teams to cover him.”
Lipscomb’s passing game “opened up really well,” said Broome, as the Eagles were trying to stop Broome. “That is what got us going, other people making plays, Justin Hughes’ three touchdowns, the O-line getting it in, receivers, perimeter blocking, all that.”
All that felt “amazing” said Broome. “Our goal was to get to the state championship and win it. So we got there. Now we’ve got to go win it.”
For Lipscomb senior linebacker Eli Miller it will be his second state championship game. From Denver, Miller played in the Colorado state championship game as a sophomore at Valley Christian High School.
“It’s one of the best feelings you could have as a football player,” said Miller, who has an offer to play college football at Northern Colorado and is talking with Air Force, Iowa and Austin Peay.
With Colorado high schools not playing this season due to the coronavirus pandemic, Miller was trying to find a place to play and learned about Lipscomb through Valley Christian head football coach Ed McCaffrey, the father of Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey.
Miller liked Lipscomb when he toured the campus and appreciated Dilfer’s message.
“He always preaches the brotherhood being together as one. I agree with that a lot. It shows about our team,” said Miller, who called it “super cool” to have been around “NFL super stars. I have been blessed. It’s awesome.”
Miller said the Mustangs are “playing with each other and playing for God. That is the most important thing. We are doing our thing that we expected to do. We expect a lot of ourselves.”The Mustangs’ pregame chapel is what “makes us special” said Miller. “We have different themes for every week,” he added. “Today was battle scars. We talk about all the stuff we go through outside of just football. We have had a lot of adversity, divorces, deaths stuff that you go through in life. That really brings us together because we lean on each other. That is why we play so good. We expect each other to do our best and that is what we did. That is how we keep somebody to 13 points. Having a defense and a brotherhood that you can lean on really helps with that stuff.”Dilfer said that the Mustangs have had “a lot of shared adversity.””We have lost loved ones. We have had a lot of tragedy within our community. Instead of complaining about it and feeling sorry for ourselves we loved each other well. We have really shown our faith. We have become a more faithful team. We are really leaning on each other.
“Faith is everything. It’s the center of everything you do and everything we do we weave the gospel into it. Our kids are very aware that we represent a king more than a coach, more than a team. We take that very seriously.”
Under his eyes, Miller puts crosses with eye black.
“I pray every time before a game. I am trying to put all the glory to God because when it comes down to it this is all you can do. You shouldn’t be playing for yourself or playing for anything but God,” said Miller, who said that his faith “is the world.”
With both schools Christian based, ECS head coach Trey Adams said, “Everything we do we lean on our faith. Every day is in the Lord’s hands and He has plans for us and all we can do is wake up and be faithful and come to work.”
After the game Adams spent time with his seniors.
“These seniors rebuilt this program. They were freshmen when we all came in four years ago. I am gong to go love on them. I am extremely proud of this senior group, ” said Adams.
“It was a weird year. This senior group responded to everything. There were days we didn’t know what we were practicing for and when we were practicing with COVID.”
Adams told his team after the game that “this one is going to hurt for a few days but nobody can take away from them is another region championship this year, we got to host a semifinal playoff game. This group of seniors was huge on the state championship team last year. This one should hurt, they are competitors.
“We will wake up tomorrow morning. We will be thankful. We will be blessed. They have helped rebuild this culture that coach (Jim) Heinz has built.”
Heinz coached ECS from 1978-2010 and won four football state championships. Heinz, who died in January, was inducted into the Tennessee Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2018.
The highlight of Hatcher’s career was winning the state championship.
“It was the greatest day of our lives. My career at ECS was great. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, the coaching staff I have will help me the rest of my life,” said Hatcher, who will play baseball this spring and hopes to play college football.
One of the Mustangs’ biggest accomplishments this season said Broome was getting to play because of COVID protocol.
As the Mustangs prepare for CPA, a team they defeated 20-14 on Oct. 23 and has a 9-1 record on the field and a COVID forfeit win, Dilfer wants the Mustangs to work on cleaning up some recognition formations.
“We have to clean up offensively, some execution in the run game, special teams we have to field the ball better on punt return. These are 14 to 18-year old kids. There are a lot of things we can correct.”
Dilfer felt good about the Mustangs chances in Memphis.
“We’ve travel well. We have learned from our mistakes early in the year. This is a special group of kids.”
Calling the state championship game “the next challenge,” Dilfer said that his team tries to execute at the “highest level each time we get on the field. That is what we did tonight. There were a lot of good performances. Eli Miller defensively. Our defensive line was fantastic, very good offensive line. Offensively I thought Luther Richesson set the tone early by pushing the ball down the field.”
On Lipscomb’s first possession, Richesson capped the 69-yard drive with a 41-yard touchdown pass to Hughes. It was 7-0 after senior Ryan Young kicked the extra point with 4:46 left in the first quarter. The drive included a 26-yard pass from Richesson to Beau Dawson.
The Mustangs scored on their next possession. An excellent 34-yard catch by Coleman Baker from Richesson put the Mustangs on the ECS 38.
Richesson then passed 21 yards to Dawson to the 17. Broome ran to the 1 before he scored a touchdown on the next play. Young kicked it to 14-0 with 5.9 seconds left in the first.
It was 21-0 after Richesson hit Daniel Green with a 9-yard touchdown
pass with 10:07 left in the second quarter and Young kicked the PAT.
With a one-handed grab, Lipscomb’s Sam Fisher intercepted Hatcher and returned it 7 yards for a touchdown and a 28-0 lead with Young’s extra point with 8:39 left.
Former Pro Bowl and Tennessee Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who was watching the game from the sidelines, said the catch reminded him of the Los Angeles Raiders’ Jack Squirek’s 5-yard touchdown interception of the Washington Redskins’ Joe Theismann in Super Bowl 18 in 1984. That gave the Raiders a 21-3 lead and they went on to win 38-9.
Hasselbeck’s son Henry Hasselbeck is a freshman quarterback on the Lipscomb junior varsity team. He fractured his elbow in the second game this season.
The Eagles, which finished 8-3 on the field and had a COVID forfeit win over First Assembly Christian School, scored their first touchdown with 3:46 left in the second quarter. Hatcher capped an 11-play 80-yard drive with a 27-yard touchdown pass to Hill. Ethan Perkins kicked the extra point. It was 28-7. Hill had caught a 27-yard pass from Hatcher that put the Eagles on the Lipscomb 27.
Hughes increased the Mustangs lead to 35-7 with his 78-yard kickoff return with 3:34 left in the second quarter. Young kicked his fifth extra point of the first half.
After a failed fake punt by the Eagles, Lipscomb was on the Eagles 29 yard line but the Eagles’ Zac Bratton intercepted Richesson and returned it to the Eagles 20.
Later Lipscomb took over on downs at the ECS 45 and Richesson then threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to Hughes with 13.2 seconds left. Young’s PAT gave the Mustangs a 42-7 lead at halftime.
A 25-yard run by Broome, who finished with 102 yards rushing on 9 carries, set up the Mustangs’ seventh touchdown. Broome scored on a 5- yard run with 7:14 left in the third quarter. Young made it 49-7.
A 28-yard pass from Richesson to Baker put the Mustangs on the Eagles 30. Broome then ran 30 yards for a touchdown and a 55-7 lead that Young made 56-7 with 2:24 left in the third quarter.
The Eagles’ Tucker White, a junior who rushed for 102 yards on 23 carries, scored the Eagles’ last touchdown of the season with a 19-yard run with 2 seconds left. The scoring drive went 74 yards on 12 plays taking 7:58 minutes. The extra point by Thomas Kizer was missed.
White ran for a first down at the ECS 37. Brady Holloway got a first down at the 50. White, who had an excellent game, got another first down at the Lipscomb 26 and ran to the 19 before his 19-yard touchdown.
“Everyone did really good in the game,” said Hatcher, a senior who completed 6 of 19 passes for 74 yards. “Tucker did really good. We were very proud of him especially coming off his injury.” White broke his collarbone in the third game of the season.
Adams said, “I am proud of everybody.”
“They have a lot of tough, physical kids. They hit me good a couple of times. They are a really talented team. said Richesson of ECS. “The extra week of prep we were ready for a couple of twists and curves they threw. They are smart kids. Lots of respect to them.”
Broome appreciates the respect he got to be named a semi-finalist for Mr. Football.
“It meant a lot that people thought highly of me not only my football ability but my character and how I perform in the class room,” he said.
In his second year at Lipscomb, Dilfer has brought a “new and different passion to the game,” said Broome. “He has played football his whole life., Having the NFL experience and him passing it down to us, our mindset is different than a lot of teams.”
Along with Baltimore, Dilfer played for Tampa Bay from 1994-99, Seattle from 2001-04, Cleveland 2005, San Francisco 2006-07. He went to the Pro Bowl in 1997.
At Fresno State, Dilfer was a Western Athletic Conference All-American in 1993 along with being the conference offensive player of the year that year.
Lipscomb’s special teams’ coach Phil Dawson was a placekicker in the NFL from 1998-2018. He played for Oakland (1998), New England (1998), Cleveland (1999-2012), San Francisco (2013-16), Arizona (2017-18). He went to the Pro Bowl in 2012.
Lipscomb had 320 yards total offense with 109 rushing, 211 passing. ECS had 210 yards total offense with 136 rushing, 74 passing.
Carlin Walker rushed for 6 yards for Lipscomb, Richesson 1.
Along with White’s and Greenwood’s yardage, Clayton Garrison rushed for 21 yards on 6 carries and Holloway 3 yards.
Baker caught 2 passes for 62 yards, Dawson 2 passes for 45, Green 2 for 21 for Lipscomb. Hill led ECS receivers with 58 yards on 3 catches. Peter Nearn 2 for 10, Andrew Agapos 1 for 6.
Defensively four Lipscomb players each had one sack, Edwin Spillman for 6 yards, Brian Longwell for 6, Jack Williamson and Fisher.
Tate Taylor had 8 tackles for the Mustangs, Braden Ford 6, Spillman 7, Miller 6, Fisher 4, Longwell 3, Brady Irwin 3, Jack Williamson 3, Hunter High 3, Jaden Lyles 2, Chase Allen 2, Carlin Walker 2, Holden Fernandez 2, Cole Welch 2, Tyrin Watkins 2, Zach Larkin 2, Hayden Harmon 2, Brandon Solis 2, Zach Pupel 1, Jordan Jackson 1, Adam Walker 1, Ethan Poling 1, Willie Berris 1, Baker 1, Austin Ezell 1, A. J. Coleman 1, Antonio Carter 1.
For the Eagles, Nearn had 5, Hill 3, Will Arthur 3, Chris Wisesman 2, Zach Baker 2, Holloway 2, Agapos 2, Jacob Welch 1, Luke Pleban 1, Bennett Brady 1.
The Mustangs, who have 21 seniors, have been led this year this by Hughes, Taylor, Miller and Richesson.
“Love him to death,” said Broome of Richesson,
Richesson said that offensive linemen Chazan Koch, Evan Rogers, Reid Watson, Carson Pearman, Luke Westerman “are all leaders. They really run this team and we feed off them.” Richesson also said that Jack Williamson on the defensive line helped get the ball back for more offensive drives.
“Everybody that has come in to be a part of this tribe, Beau Dawson, Alex Broome, are really making an impact. Our senior leaders Daniel Green, Justin Hughes, everybody. It was a team effort tonight.”
Hatcher called Lipscomb “a great team. They did a lot of things that were effective. We didn’t execute in some key spots and they capitalized on those mistakes.”
Hill, a junior, will look forward to his senior season.
“We fought out best. We gave it our all. We played as a team. Sometimes it doesn’t go our way. I can say we fought today. I was pleased with how we never gave up,” said Hill.
“We all wanted to go back-to-back (state champions). I can’t be disappointed with the guys on our team, especially how hard they play. We go to war with them every single day. They (Mustangs) are a great team. Props to them. They came to play tonight.”
Hill listened as Adams, who described Lipscomb as one of the most physical teams he has ever seen, told his team after the game to keep their heads ups.
“We can’t hold our heads down,” said Hill.
The hashtag “Be Set Apart,” is a theme Dilfer, who is in his second season, stresses.
He wants the Mustangs to be set apart in their conditioning, preparation, game planning.
They advanced to the state semifinals last year before losing to CPA and finishing 7-6.
Richesson said, “We are not going to back down. We are going to keep going. I am glad we won this week. We are one step closer to that 672 minutes.”
Dilfer has told his team that Lipscomb was a “community of almost,” said Broome. “We almost got this and now we are there and we have got to make it happen.”