But the high-scoring Challengers answered back swiftly in a Class 3A opening round football game at U.S. Cellular Community Park Friday.
Despite failing to reach the 50-point mark for the eighth straight game, Cascade Christian did plenty of scoring and subdued the visiting Eagles 49-13.
The Challengers (9-1) advance to the 3A quarterfinals for the 11th consecutive year and will host Scio, a 50-35 winner over St. Mary’s, in the next round.
It’s the fourth time over the past two seasons Cascade Christian has defeated Harrisburg (7-3). The Challengers handled Harrisburg 46-8 in last year’s quarterfinals and beat the Eagles 52-20 earlier this season
“They’re a discipline football team,” said Harrisburg coach Edmund Rivera, who guided the Eagles to the 2016 state title. “One play here or there might have made a difference. There’s something about this place that sticks in our craw.”
Rivera referred to a critical personal foul call for a late hit on Cascade quarterback Kiegan Schaan on the Challengers first possession after Harrisburg put together an 11-play, 76-yard scoring drive on the game’s initial series. The penalty nullified an incomplete pass on a third-and-16 and allowed the Challengers to continue the drive that culminated with a 29-yard touchdown pass from Schaan to senior John Fralich on a fourth-down play to tie the score 7-all with 3:38 left in the first quarter.
“That was key on fourth down when Kiegan connected with John (Fralich) in the back of the end zone on a deep post route,” said Cascade Christian coach Jon Gettman. “I was concerned about getting his foot down. It was a big play for us.”
The Challengers got the ball right back when sophomore Kristian Fralich, John’s younger brother, had good coverage on a third-down pass that forced Harrisburg to punt.
After taking over on its 46, it only took Cascade Christian three plays to grab a 14-7 lead. Schaan passed to Kristian Fralich for 13 yards, then John Fralich caught a slant pattern from Schaan for 34 yards to the Eagles 7. On the next play, senior running back Luke Smith made a nifty cut in the hole and went in for a touchdown.
But a real back-breaker for the Eagles occurred on their next possession when Cade Sample intercepted a Dax Bennett pass in the left flat and took it the distance. Ethan Hoffman converted the third of seven extra-point kicks and the Challengers opened up a 21-7 lead with two seconds remaining in the opening period.
“I was coming off the edge on a blitz,” said the junior linebacker Sample, who scored his first varsity touchdown on the play. “The ball was behind me. As soon as I turned the ball was there. I knew I had to score on it.”
Trailing 28-7, Harrisburg drove from its 12 to the Challenger 37 but a big pass rush by the Challengers front forced Bennett into an incompletion on fourth down.
With just over one minute remaining before halftime, the Challengers weren’t content with the 21-point lead. Instead Schaan went to the air and completed five straight passes and scored on a 33-yard heave to John Fralich with 17 seconds showing.
John Fralich caught four of the passes and outmaneuvered two Harrisburg defensive backs on the touchdown.
The Challengers struck fast again after receiving the second-half kickoff. Elijah Smith’s 44-yard dash up the middle finished a two-play, 64 yard drive with 46 seconds gone in the half.
John Fralich led the Challengers with six catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns while his brother Kristian caught five passes for 84 yards and two touchdowns.
Senior Luke Smith played an important role on offense and defense. Luke Smith led the rushing attack with 94 yards and had a team-high eight tackles from his linebacker position.
“We kicked it in full gear after their first drive,” said Smith. “It was all attitude and heart. We figured things out and went to work.”
Harrisburg’s potent ground game accumulated 305 yards. Bennett accounted for 170 yards on 25 carries and Gabe Knox added 119.
“They changed up what they did the first time we played them so that kept us off balance,” said Gettman. “We got some good stops to take the lead. In the second half, they moved the ball and shortened the game.”
The Challengers finished with 375 yards of offense.
Schaan completed 13 of 24 passes for 234 yards and four touchdowns.
“Our diversity makes us tough to stop,” said Gettman. “Our team is low key and steadfast. They don’t panic.”
Harrisburg 7 0 6 0—13
Cascade Christian 21 14 7 7—49
H — Knox 6 run (Harris kick)
CC — J. Fralich 29 pass from Schaan (Hoffman kick)
CC — L. Smith 7 run (Hoffman kick)
CC — Sample 44 interception return (Hoffman kick)
CC — K. Fralich 20 pass from Schaan (Hoffman kick)
CC — J. Fralich 33 pass from Schaan (Hoffman kick)
CC — E. Smith 44 run (Hoffman kick)
H — Bennett 43 run (kick blocked)
CC — K. Fralich 11 pass from Schaan (Hoffman kick)