Keith Dooley wasn’t sure what to expect in the spring when he returned to coach at Christian Life for the second time and inherited a 1-9 football team.
Now, with three weeks remaining in the regular season, the Crusaders’ destiny is crystal clear: Win three games and consummate a dream season with a district championship.
Though the finish line may be in sight, the race to the top of District 7-1A is far from over. The home stretch of the Crusaders’ schedule includes consecutive matchups against the league’s co-leaders, beginning with a Friday home game versus Southern Lab before facing Kentwood.
But don’t expect Dooley to change the formula that’s helped the Crusaders to a 5-2 record.
“It’s no secret that we just try to do what we do really well: Manage the clock as best as we can and play some sound defense,” Dooley said.
CLA enters the contest against Southern Lab on a three-game winning streak that features a combined score of 125-56. The Crusaders defense forced nine combined turnovers during the streak in district wins against Mt. Hermon and Varnado.
Meanwhile, the offense has scored at least 42 points in its last three wins thanks to the explosive tandem of junior quarterback Trey Fisher and wide receiver Frank Bartley.
Fisher has thrown for more than 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. Bartley, a 6-foot-3 senior who doubles as a starting guard for the basketball team, has caught multiple touchdowns in three games.
“With Frank being the tall, physical, speedy player that he is, we knew it would be a good combination to get him and Trey working together,” Dooley said. “Frank’s a big playmaker, and with Trey working the ball to him and getting their timing down, each week it’s getting better.”
CLA’s success this season took some trial and error. After starting the season 2-1, the Crusaders traveled to Episcopal and allowed nearly 500 yards rushing in a 49-28 defeat, perhaps forcing Dooley to reconsider his approach.
Big-picture concepts gave way to fundamentals - ball security, tackling, team chemistry - as mistakes were soon replaced with wins.
“We’ve really increased our football IQ, become more aware of game situations and formatted that into our practice time” Dooley said. “We’ve settled into the things we do well, and that’s what we’ve concentrated on.”