From the beginning of summer practice, Augusta Christian head football coach Keith Walton preached to his team to get better every day.
That mantra helped push the Lions to a perfect 10-0 regular season. The team puts that record on the line Friday night as the favorite in the South Carolina Independent School Association Class AAA playoffs against Cardinal Newman.
Cardinal Newman enters with a 4-7 record and a three game losing streak.
As the first place team in the division, the Lions squad has home field advantage in the first two rounds leading to the championship game in Columbia, S.C., Nov. 17. A win Friday would pit the team against the Orangeburg Prep-Porter Gaud winner, Nov. 9.
When the Lions traveled to Cardinal Newman Sept. 7, the team jumped out to a 41-3 halftime lead and cruised to a 55-15 win. Tailback Thomas Banks rushed for 206 yards on just eight carries and scored four touchdowns.
Banks has rushed for 1,112 yards thus far, the second consecutive season he has broken the 1,000-yard plateau. He has 13 touchdowns.
Banks, however, is just one of the problems facing Cardinal Newman. Quarterback Tyler Roberson has thrown for 1,646 yards and 16 touchdowns with only three interceptions. He has called his own number in the Lions’ triple option to the tune of 774 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Senior fullback Sean Sweeting was still recovering from an injury during the teams’ first meeting, but is now at full strength and a powerful blocker. He’s also a tough runner who has 343 yards and five touchdowns.
While basically a one-dimensional rushing team in 2011, the passing game has thrived in 2012 with Roberson finding a connection with junior Nick Fortenberry, who has 39 catches for 830 yards and eight touchdowns. Sophomore Ian McDaniel has contributed 22 catches for 301 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively, the Lions are led by senior linebacker Gaige Gilbert who has 85 total tackles, including 63 solo and seven tackles-for-loss . Sophomore Kobie Brinson has four interceptions.
On special teams, freshman kicker Heath Brace has been nearly perfect, connecting on 46 of 50 point-after attempts while making two field goals with a long of 40 yards.