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Game of the week: Chestatee looks to make more history

War Eagles host LaGrange in 1st ever home playoff game

POSTED: November 15, 2012 11:16 p.m.
Scott Rogers/The Times

Chestatee's Rob Minor, right, and Jay Lyles wrap up Monroe area running back Kwan Brooks earlier this season. The War Eagles are playing their first home playoff game in program history.

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This is when all the time spent practicing pass coverages and the summer 7-on-7 drills will really come in handy.

The No. 2 seed Chestatee War Eagles (8-2), opening the playoffs at home for the first time in program history, are looking to make another mark on the school record book by winning the program’s first playoff game. They’ll have to do it against a team, and an offense, unlike any other they’ve seen this season.

Region 5-AAAA No. 3 seed LaGrange (5-5) runs a no-huddle, pass-heavy spread offense, different even then the other spread offenses the War Eagles have faced this season, which have been primarily running teams.

“We’ve done pass coverage drills since spring practice,” Chestatee coach Stan Luttrell said. “And the summer 7-on-7 camps have helped a lot.

“We need to continue to get pressure, and tackle in space, because spread offenses like to get their athletes in space, and LaGrange has a lot of athletes.”

The War Eagles have worked to prepare for this new opponent, because the players, especially the seniors, aren’t ready for the historic run to end.

“The first eight-win season, making the playoffs for the first time, especially in our senior year, and it’d be amazing to get the first playoff win in school history,” said Chestatee senior linebacker Baker McCormack, who leads the team with 104 tackles.

“I think our defense is up to the challenge, and hopefully we can get more sacks than we’re getting.”

McCormack said his job won’t change much facing a pass-first team, because as a linebacker his first priority is to sniff out the run; only after reading a pass play does that change.

McCormack does, however, have a goal for the defense against the Grangers.

“We want to shut their offense down as soon as possible and score a lot of points,” he said. “Maybe we can even get some of the (junior varsity) guys to play in a playoff game.”

Sophomore running back A.J. Sijiye (860 yards rushing) added that he’d like to see another complete-game effort like the 51-0 win against Walnut Grove.

The defense is certainly capable. The three most dominant games for the War Eagles defense — as far as points allowed is concerned — have been in the second half of the season. The unit held Madison County, Lumpkin County and Walnut Grove to a combined 24 points, allowing Chestatee to cruise to three easy wins in its final five games.

“The defense has improved tremendously,” Sijiye said. “They’re a strong defense, a fast defense. I feel like we can always rely on our defense.”

McCormack added that the unit, which allowed 31 points per game in the first five games and just 19 in the last five, has been lining up better and moving to the football better as the season has progressed.

The War Eagles have allowed an average of 25 points per game on defense, while scoring 38.

Against LaGrange, the War Eagles will be tasked with stopping the dynamic tandem of junior quarterback Zack Giddens (159 of 272 passing for 2,460 yards and 26 touchdowns) and senior receiver Dee Smith (53 catches for 1,049 yards and 11 scores).

The Grangers have allowed an average of 28 points per game and scored 31.

Luttrell said after Thursday’s walkthrough at War Eagle Stadium that, against LaGrange, the best defense will be long drives by the Chestatee offense, which has averaged 349.7 rushing yards and 415 total yards per game, second in the area.

“We just have to come focused, and we can’t make a lot of mistakes,” Sijiye added.

Sijiye is second on the team in rushing yards to Quan Clark (1,126) and just ahead of quarterback Jordan Degraff (672) and running back Brandon Thompson (454), making for a loaded Chestatee backfield capable of playing keep away.

The primary threat they need to keep an eye out for on the Grangers defense is 6-foot-5, 280-pound senior defensive end Joe Sanders, a University of Tennessee recruit who has recorded 77 tackles — 17 for loss — and eight sacks this season.

While LaGrange hasn’t finished a season above .500 since 2009, it’s a program with a history of success, including a 54-28-1 record in the postseason since 1948, according to the Georgia High School Football Daily, and its most recent state championship in 2004.

Chestatee, which opened its doors in 2002, has been to the postseason two other times, losing to Stephens County in 2005 and Cartersville in 2006.

This time, just getting back to the playoffs isn’t enough for the War Eagles.

“What a great opportunity we have, with LaGrange coming in and playing our first home playoff game,” Luttrell said. “But (the players) are not satisfied. They want to win and continue this great year.”


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