CLEVELAND — The Chestatee War Eagles couldn’t have scripted a better start, but the White County Warriors used an opportunistic defense and a pair of quick strikes on offense to secure a decisive comeback victory Friday.
White County stormed back to win 50-28 and help its playoff hopes in Region 8-AAAA at White County Stadium.
Trailing 14-0 early and then 21-7 late in the first half, the Warriors (4-4, 2-3 Region 8-AAAA) began the turnaround with Sam Turner’s 50-yard fumble return for a touchdown with 3:45 left in the second quarter.
“That was probably the key play in the ballgame,” White County coach Bill Ballard said.
Following a punt by the War Eagles (1-7, 0-5), Maurice Sutton broke free down the left sideline for a 54-yard catch-and-run touchdown pass from A.J. Vandiver with 1:17 remaining in the half to tie it 21-all.
By the time Tucker Cook broke free for an 80-yard touchdown reception from Vandiver on the third quarter’s first play from scrimmage, White County had gone from down 14 to a seven-point lead in less than four minutes of game time.
“It was Senior Night for us,” Ballard said. “And a lot of seniors made a lot of great plays, and this senior class is special.”
Marvin Rosario’s 79-yard touchdown reception from A.J. Sijiye, which came after his 77-yard score from Logan Cates on the game’s first drive, tied it 28-all before the Warriors scored the final 22 points.
Sutton had a 4-yard touchdown run to cap a 12-play, 80-yard drive spanning more than five minutes as White County took the lead for good with 4:31 left in the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, the Warriors pulled away with a 22-yard Turner touchdown run and Cook’s 56-yard interception return touchdown with 8:11 to play, which was followed by Sutton’s two-point conversion run.
“We just manned up and came back,” Cook said. “All the seniors stepped up. Everybody started communicating. Everything was just working for us in the second half.”
Tray Bryant rushed for 95 yards on 15 carries for Chestatee.
The War Eagles took a 14-0 lead less than six minutes into the game on the strength of Rosario’s juggling catch from Cates, then Cates’ 3-yard scoring run six plays after a White County fumble.
“The last few weeks we’ve started slow, so we made an emphasis of starting with some enthusiasm,” Chestatee coach Bill Forman said. “And we did. We took the fight to them, and I was real proud of our kids for doing that. I think when you have a season like this, you’ve got to learn to play with prosperity as much as you do with adversity. And that’s a lesson learned for a young team.”
Max Taylor got the Warriors on the board with a 3-yard run four plays after Adam Johnson returned his interception to the Chestatee 12-yard line to cut it to 14-7 on the final play of the opening quarter. Cates’ 21-yard touchdown pass to Brian Dickson pushed it back to 21-7 with 4:55 left in the first half.
White County had a quartet of ball carriers tally at least 40 yards: Turner (11 carries, 90 yards), Taylor (16 carries, 73 yards), Sutton (13 carries, 54 yards) and Vandiver (five carries, 41 yards).
“We needed the game,” Ballard said. “We sure did. And we needed to get back going offensively and just get it rolling, getting some momentum rolling into Monroe Area.”
The Warriors scored 21 of their points off the War Eagles’ four turnovers.
“We made a lot of plays defensively tonight in the second half,” Ballard said.
Forman said the defensive scores by White County were pivotal.
“Those kind of things get you beat,” Forman said.
Chestatee hosts county rival North Hall next Friday, when White County visits winless Monroe Area.
The War Eagles and the Trojans will be matching up with pride on the line as both have one victory this season.
“I’m excited because they’re familiar to us and we’re familiar to them,” Forman said. “It’s going to be a fun game.”