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Chestatee, Flowery Branch look to avoid consecutive first-round upsets

POSTED: November 14, 2013 6:26 p.m.
Scott Rogers | The Times/

Chestatee coach Stan Luttrell watches a play during practice on Wednesday in Gainesville. Chestatee(8-2) hosts Grady (8-2) tonight in the first round of the Class AAAA state playoffs.

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Last season, Hall County’s two newest schools celebrated their 10-year anniversaries by both hosting first-round state playoff football games.

They didn’t celebrate much thereafter.

Flowery Branch and Chestatee both fell victim to first-round upsets, despite holding home field advantage and the higher seed in each matchup. On a night when four Hall County teams hosted state playoff games, only two survived to play in the second round.

The Falcons and War Eagles are in the same predicament a year later, with home games to kick off the state playoffs tonight. Flowery Branch hosts Stephenson, while Chestatee welcomes Grady to town.

And they’re hoping history doesn’t repeat itself.

“It was the first time that group had been in the playoffs in their high school career,” Chestatee coach Stan Luttrell said. “I don’t know how much nervousness was going on, but I know when the game was over, we felt like we had an opportunity pass us by.”

That missed opportunity came to the tune of six turnovers, including three that ended up in touchdowns, in the War Eagles’ 59-46 loss to LaGrange in last year’s first-round.

Chestatee (8-2), the No. 2 seed in that game, overcame a 20-point deficit at one point and kept pace with the Grangers’ offense late in the contest. But the excitement of the War Eagles’ first-ever home playoff game remained spoiled at the final buzzer, as the No. 3 seeded visitors left War Eagle Stadium with the victory.

“We felt like if we had played up to our standards, we would’ve won that game,” Luttrell said. “We’re anxious to get another opportunity at home, and be able to win a home playoff game.”
That opportunity comes tonight against Grady (8-2), which like LaGrange makes the trip as aNo. 3 seed.

The Midtown Atlanta-based Grey Knights secured their spot in the state playoffs with a 25-22 win over Lithonia last week in a region play-in game. They amassed seven straight wins sandwiched between a season-opening loss to Decatur and a 28-7 loss to Carver-Atlanta two weeks ago.

Grady is far from a postseason newcomer. The Grey Knights have made the playoffs seven of the past 10 seasons, with three quarterfinal appearances and one semifinal game over that span.

Meanwhile, Chestatee is still looking for its first playoff win in school history on its fourth attempt.

“I feel like we’re coming in a little more confident than we did last year,” War Eagles running back Zac Cheshire said. “We know we have a lot of good power, and we have more experience, so we know what to expect. It should be a good game.”

“Everybody is going to have to do their assignments,” linebacker William Fayson added. “If one person is not doing their part, we can mess up. But as long as everybody is doing their job on their side of the ball, we’ll be fine.”

Across town, Flowery Branch (7-3) has a different mind set about the playoffs after a first-round upset in 2012.

Fresh off a stunning 35-34 win over Gainesville for the Region 8-AAAAA title the week before, the top-seeded Falcons let their guard down against a first-year playoff team in North Paulding, and the Wolfpack delivered. They unloaded an unforeseen 63-43 victory at Falcon Field, prematurely ending a promising postseason for Flowery Branch.

“We were guilty of thinking we were the one seed playing the four seed, and we could ease up a touch,” Falcons coach Chris Griffin said. “That was obviously a very poor mistake. That’s been our focus all week, and we’re not going to let that happen again.”

They can’t afford to this year, with a stout Stephenson team on its way to Falcon Field tonight. The third-seeded Jaguars (8-2) feature 10 Division-I commits and even more college-bound athletes behind them. They reached the state quarterfinals a year ago.

Stephenson might be the toughest No. 3 seed in Class AAAAA and a team very capable of rattling off a No. 2 seed on the road. At least that’s what Griffin sees.

“Our guys do understand the opponent this year, and that this team is very, very capable of beating us,” Griffin said. “It’s one of those things where we have to be prepared for everything.”

Griffin says his team has zeroed in on beating Stephenson, but a compelling scenario may be within the Falcons’ reach next week. Should they beat the Jaguars, they could potentially earn a rematch with none other than North Paulding in the second round, with Flowery Branch paying a visit to the Wolfpack’s house this time around.

That second round is not even a blip on the Falcons’ radar until the first is out of the way. Otherwise, Stephenson could hand Flowery Branch back-to-back first-round losses for the first time in team history.

“This group is very committed to making sure that it doesn’t happen again,” Griffin said. “That doesn’t mean it’ll be any easier, but I think our guys understand that when you get to the playoffs, anybody can beat anybody.

“If (the second-round rematch) happens, it’ll be exciting. But we cannot look past what’s at stake right now.”


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