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Pair of playoff contenders kick off season

POSTED: September 2, 2008 5:01 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Defenders on the Chestatee High football "hands" squad practice onside kick techniques during the War Eagles' Wednesday afternoon football practice. Chestatee will host Gainesville High tonight at War Eagle Stadium.

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  • Gainesville coach Bruce Miller talks about tonight's game
  • Chestatee coach Stan Luttrell talks about tonight's game

The first game of the year can prove to be a barometer for the entire season.

Some teams schedule opponents to ensure starting the season on a winning note, while other teams, like Chestatee and Gainesville go a different route. And tonight, the two teams with playoff hopes square off to open the season, in what Chestatee coach Stan Luttrell called, “the biggest opener in school history.”

“Opening the season with an opponent like Gainesville is very challenging, and I’m anxious to see how our boys step up to the challenge,” Luttrell said.

For Chestatee, the biggest challenge will be how to stop Gainesville’s pass-first offense that features junior quarterback Blake Sims and junior wide receiver T.J. Jones.

“No. 2 (Sims) and No. 9 (Jones) are definite playmakers,” Luttrell said. “They can change the tide of the game in one snap, and we’re going to do everything we can on defense to prevent that from happening.”

In order to do that, Luttrell will rely on the play of two seniors, safety Jonathon Cain and linebacker, and University of Georgia verbal commit Chase Vasser, who combined for 16 tackles (four for a loss) during the War Eagles’ 35-19 win over Gainesville last year.

That win by Chestatee was the first win against Gainesville in school history, and prior to that game, the War Eagles had been outscored 273-22 over the first five meetings. According to Gainesville coach Bruce Miller, while last year’s outcome doesn’t mean the Red Elephants are seeking revenge, it did fuel what is becoming a heated rivalry.

“The fact that they beat us last year makes it a big draw,” Miller said. “Nothing went right for us in that game, and they played extremely well.”

Miller expects much of the same tonight, in a game against what he called, “the best football team Chestatee has ever had.”

That team is led on defense by Vasser and Cain, and on offense by the Souther brothers, junior running back Ben, and senior quarterback Ethan, who scored three rushing touchdowns in 2007 against Gainesville.

The backfield brothers are the catalysts behind Chestatee’s run orientated offense, and limiting their effectiveness is a focal point for Miller.

“We’ve got to get their offense off the field,” said the Gainesville coach. “Our defense can not let their offense run eight, nine, 10, 11 or 12 play drives.”

The Red Elephants’ defense was unable to achieve that goal last year, but this year, with seniors Shammond Stringer, Phillip Gaines and Josh Jackson, Luttrell knows that running the ball on Gainesville tonight will prove to be more difficult.

“Gainesville has a very good defensive front,” he said. “But this team is ready for the challenge, and we’re going to put our best foot forward tonight.”

Both coaches know that while winning this game is a great momentum builder for the remainder of the season, a loss would not prove to be the end of the world.

“I don’t think it’s a make or break game,” Luttrell said. “But if we win, I think it can give us a lot of momentum here early.

“We’re ready for 7:30 to be here and get this first game on, and use it as a measuring stick to see where we’re at.”

His coaching counterpart feels the same way.

“If they weren’t so good it could be a make or break game,” Miller said. “If you play well in this game, and you’re fortunate to win it, it’s the kind of game that will tell us where we stack up.

“Do I want to win this game? Of course I want to win the game,” he added. “It makes getting up on Saturday a lot easier.”

Regardless of the outcome, Luttrell knows that tonight’s game will be something special.

“It’s gonna be the way football should be in the South,” he said. “Everybody’s gonna be excited. Everybody’s gonna expect their team to win. And everybody’s going to be excited to get this season started.”

With two teams of this caliber, what a start it will be.



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