Lexington Christian Academy is in a familiar spot, still playing football three rounds into the post-season. The Eagles, who travel to Somerset for the Class 2A quarterfinals Friday night, have won 17 of 20 playoff games since 2007.
Despite LCA's recent history, not many people would have predicted this playoff run, not after the Eagles' early-season struggles.
Five weeks into the schedule, LCA had lots of bruises, four losses and plenty of reason to doubt that its first foray into 2A would be any fun. But Coach Ray Graham, who can see a silver lining in an F-5 tornado, kept preaching a positive message.
"I knew our schedule was extremely tough, so I kept saying, 'Look, boys, we've gotta keep working, keep getting better, keep encouraging one another, and if we do, something good's gonna happen. Week 9, senior night, is going to be special.' "
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Even though LCA was riddled by injuries and switching quarterbacks almost weekly, the players believed in their coach and themselves and turned their season around.
The Eagles beat Frankfort, then they went on the road to win their first 2A district game against Middlesboro. After losing decisively to Somerset, they bounced back the next week.
Just as Graham predicted, something special happened Week 9 of the schedule. On senior night, LCA rallied from a 13-0 deficit to beat traditional power Danville 14-13.
"We came together and meshed that game," senior linebacker Chad Hall said. "It was great. I'll never forget it."
Graham said it was simply a matter of "learning lessons about perseverance, hope and faith through adversity.
"It's never about anything but believing in your teammates and yourself, and being your best. If you do that, you can reach your potential."
Whether LCA's potential is good enough to beat Somerset will be seen Friday night. The Briar Jumpers, led by dual-threat quarterback Alex Lange, thumped LCA 37-6 in mid-October.
Clay Mossbarger, a senior safety who's coming back from a concussion, said the Eagles are "a whole different team now. We're playing together. We definitely want another shot at them."
Hall feels the same way.
"We've improved a lot since we played them. Our defensive game plan is a lot better. Everybody's buying in. We'll do our best this week."
Lincoln Henzman, a sophomore who has settled in at quarterback, came up big in the fourth quarter against Danville, and again last week in a come-from-behind win at Leslie County.
Justin King has emerged as the Eagles' big playmaker.
Ben Farhat and Sam Maybriar, who along with Hall and Mossbarger, were part of LCA's Class A state title team in 2009, know what it takes to survive and advance in the post-season.
"LCA playing good in the playoffs ... we want to carry that on whether we're 2A or 1A," Mossbarger said.
"Winning in the playoffs is a tradition with us now," Hall said. "It's fun this time of year."