September 11, 2012 9:12:16 AM
STEENS -- K.C. Cunningham and Justin Tate had no way of knowing how long it was going to take the Immanuel Christian football team to get its first victory of the 2012 season.
Following tough losses to Winona Christian, Leake Academy, and Marshall Academy, Cunningham admitted to thinking Immanuel Christian was going to have a much easier time Friday night against New Site.
It's a good thing Cunningham and Tate were prepared to play multi-threat roles because the Rams discovered nothing was gong to be easy Friday night.
Buoyed by the play of Cunningham at quarterback and Tate at a variety of positions, Immanuel Christian held on for an 82-80 victory in seven overtimes. The Rams used a stop on a two-point conversion inches from the goal line to win their first game.
For their accomplishments, Cunningham and Tate are The Dispatch's Prep Players of the Week.
Cunningham rushed 16 times for 118 yards and four touchdowns. He also was 14 of 22 for 191 yards and four more scores.
Tate rushed for two touchdowns, returned an interception 65 yards for a score, and had an 85-yard punt return for a touchdown to help the Rams survive an evening that seemed like it wouldn't end.
"It was highs one minute and lows the next minute," Immanuel Christian coach Greg Watkins said. "It just seemed like any time we had to stop them, we stopped them."
Trailing by eight points, Immanuel Christian rallied in the sixth overtime. Faced with a third-and-goal from the 20 after consecutive plays that lost yards, Cunningham, a sophomore, hit eighth-grader Dee Young on a touch pass in the back of the end zone to set the stage for the tying two-point conversion.
In the seventh overtime, Tate, a 5-foot-6, 148-pound junior, rushed for a 10-yard touchdown and Cunningham added the conversion run. The defense then bent but didn't break.
"It was tiring, but we couldn't give up. We had to keep playing," Tate said. "We had to win this game because we had lost (our first) three. We won this game to make it a new season, to start over."
Watkins praised the play of Cunningham and Tate, who also play cornerback. He said they both made adjustments and learned to make their reads to help the Rams make big plays. He also credited seniors Joshua Dantzler and Wilson Harmond for keeping the team positive.
"After they scored the first time, coach (Rob) Barron talked to me and told me to keep my spirits good and keeping playing good," Cunningham said. "He said you are going to make mistakes, but to just keep playing your game. I just kept playing and boosted up my teammates."
On offense, Watkins said the Rams tweaked their attack to give Cunningham more opportunities. With teams keying on the speedy Tate and Dantzler, Watkins said Cunningham capitalized on chances to run the ball.
"We just wanted to get the win," Cunningham said. "We capitalized on big plays and scored when we had to. It was just a good game.
"I don't think I played as hard in the first game or in the third game. This game I just gave it all I had because I didn't want to let my teammates down."
Tate, who had only 22 rushing yards, then made sure to make up for what he couldn't do on offense in other areas.
"Even though they shut him down a good bit on offense, (Justin) did a good job of making up for it on special teams and on defense," Watkins said.
Tate didn't think any of his scores were bigger than another, and that all of them had a "game-changing" element to them. He said he capitalized on a zone blocking scheme on the punt return and found a seam, cut to the sidelines, and then cut it back for the score.
Tate also credited the coaches for helping him make his reads on the tight end. He said he was able to make a good break on the ball and intercept it and bring it home.
"I think this game will make me play better," Tate said "I know the other ballgames we played, we can win. As for the team, I hope this game showed us that we can win all of the games."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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