Friday was a disappointing night for the Capital City Cavaliers, but the 2023 season will be one to be proud of.
“I’m really proud of the growth of this team, of our coaches, our players and our managers,” Capital City coach Joe Collier said. “We had some really up times, we had some really down times at points. But we stayed together, we stuck together and the whole body of work is not so bad. Tonight just sucks. But the body of work, we’re going to look back and be proud of it.”
The Cavaliers ended the season with a 41-6 loss to the Helias Crusaders in the Class 5 District 5 Championship at Ray Hentges Stadium, ending the Cavaliers’ longest program winning streak, the first eight-win season in team history and the first playoff run the Cavaliers ever made.
“We need to be proud of what we’ve built,” Collier said. “Unfortunately we didn’t get the outcome we wanted tonight.”
Capital City entered the district championship on a five-game winning streak, including the program’s first two wins in district play, rebounding from a 3-game losing streak that had them at a .500 record more than midway through the regular season at 3-3.
That run had been powered by a rushing offense that rolled through game after game and a defense that had made big strides from its struggles through the first two thirds of the regular season.
But the offense struggled to get rolling Friday night and the defense couldn’t hold the Crusaders in the first half.
After Isaiah Franklin recovered a fumble on Helias’ opening drive, after the Crusaders had amassed 46 yards on seven plays, Helias scored on every offensive drive that didn’t involve a kneel down.
The Crusader offense was powered by Austin Weaver with a 3-yard rushing touchdown and three passing touchdowns of 3, 20 and 35 yards in the first half.
On the other side, Capital City struggled to get rolling as it gained 2 yards on its initial drive, and got pushed back to a second-and-21 with the first of an eventual 10 penalties for 106 yards.
The holding call cut off the momentum the Cavaliers seemed to gain with runs of 4, 8 and 4 yards from Evan Schaffer, Phillip Richardson and Jaylen Thomas.
Thomas ended up leading the Cavaliers with 108 yards on 21 carries.
The third Cavalier drive ended with their third punt after gaining one first down, then the Crusaders jumped from a 14-0 lead to a 28-0 lead in a matter of minutes.
A 27-yard punt return from Sam Lopez, who ended with six catches for 105 yards and three touchdowns receiving, set up a Weaver passing touchdown for 20-yards to Lucas Bloomer, then the Crusaders recovered an onside kick and took a shot on the following play with Weaver connecting with Lopez for a 35-yard touchdown. Nic Calvaruso hit his fourth of five made extra points to create the 28-0 margin with 4:16 left before the break.
The Cavaliers then went away from their usual trend for their most successful drive.
The first two plays combined for two yards, then Schaffer rolled out to his right and connected with Marcus Driver on a deep out route for 19 yards to set up a first down.
The Cavaliers got to a long third down again, then Schaffer hit Demarkus Lyddon-Allen on an in route for 8 yards to set up another first. On third down, Capital City’s third of the drive, the Cavaliers went into a hurry up offense and Thomas was able to gain a new set of downs up the middle.
A pass interference penalty gave the Cavaliers another first, moving them to the Helias 21, then Thomas gained 11 yards up the middle for a first and goal from the 10. After a timeout, a false start pushed the Cavaliers back to the 15, where Schaffer heaved a jump ball to Franklin near the back of the left side of the end zone for the Cavaliers’ lone touchdown.
“We were mixing it up,” Collier said. “Just trying to match intensity. We did get some things going.”
Neither offense got much going in the third quarter, but both teams connected on fantastic punts in the early third and fourth. Parson Ocheskey, punting from the Helias 45, got a great roll downed by Dante McRoberts and the Crusader 1 after the Cavaliers’ first drive of the second half. Weaver later pooched a punt from the Cavalier 39 that was downed perfectly inside the 1 to give the Cavaliers a long field for the first drive of the fourth quarter.
The Cavaliers made a change at quarterback in the third quarter, going to Ocheskey to see if the senior could bring new energy to the offense.
“Just wanted to see if we could get a spark going,” Collier said. “We weren’t reading it as well as we could of. We thought we missed some things. Parson was on the sideline, he had the opportunity to see it and we thought he had the opportunity to get it going.”
But the Cavaliers were in desperation mode by that point and ended three of their final four drives on failed fourth-down attempts with the other ending on a lost fumble.
Schaffer completed 4-of-5 passes for 50 yards for Capital City, while Hamilton had five carries for 31 yards and two catches for 10 more in his final high school game.
The Cavaliers end the season with a record of 8-4.
“The past couple of years, we were building up to these moments,” Collier said. “It’s not going to go our way all the time, but we’re on the right path.”