Big plays and self-inflicted wounds hurt Chestatee on Friday night in a 40-14 loss to Habersham Central at War Eagle Stadium.
The War Eagles (3-3) fumbled the ball four times, with the Raiders (4-1) recovering three, and threw an interception.
The three fumbles that resulted in turnovers happened in the final 12:42.
“We can’t make mistakes against good football teams,” Chestatee coach Shaun Conley said. “We knew coming in we’d have to play good and we didn’t. We shot ourselves in the foot numerous times.”
The play that told the story of the night for the War Eagles came with 3:54 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Chestatee fumbled the ball on Habersham’s 2-yard line with 3:59 left. The War Eagles then tackled the Raiders’ backup running back for a safety.
On the ensuing kickoff, the return man for Chestatee ran into a teammate and fumbled for the final turnover of the night.
The War Eagles added its second touchdown of the night on its second possession after halftime as running back Nick Lyles (18 carries, 141 yards, touchdown) carried the ball up the middle, made one man miss and sprinted for a 65-yard score.
Chestatee attempted a 2-point conversion, but the pass was incomplete. Still, the touchdown brought the War Eagles within one score of the Raiders at 20-12.
Habersham scored on three straight possessions in the second half. Quarterback Cole Wilbanks found receiver Trey Hurt for an 18-yard touchdown pass with 1:52 left in the third quarter.
Then, with 10:16 left in the game, Wilbanks found Jake Jones for a 50-yard score.
The final touchdown of the night came on an option as Wilbanks pitched it to Brett Moore for a 51-yard run.
Chestatee fell behind 20-6 at the halftime break with the interception coming just before the teams went to their locker rooms.
Habersham was able to use pass plays of 35, 78 and 5 yards in the first half to score quick-hit touchdowns.
The Raiders scored the 35-yarder on its first possession, punching the ball in on the third play of the game as Wilbanks connected with Hurt (two receptions, 53 yards, two TDs) on a play-action slant pass.
On its next possession, Habersham started on its own 5-yard line. After plays of 6 and 11 yards, Wilbanks found Jones (two receptions, 128 yards, two TDs) on the same play-action slant for 78 yards and a score.
The War Eagles answered with a 4-yard pass from quarterback Storm Yarbrough (16 of 26, 116 yards, TD) to receiver Baylee Camp (6 receptions, 71 yards, TD).
Habersham capped first-half scoring with a 5-yard pass from wildcat quarterback Bryce Tanner to Karl Fail.
The Raiders finished the night with 503 yards of offense (319 passing, 184 rushing).
Wilbanks was 14 of 24 passing for 314 yards and four touchdowns.
“Cole has played solid for us all year long,” Raiders’ coach Benji Harrison said. “We thought coming into tonight that he would have some opportunities because they bring a lot of pressures and lock up in man. You’ve got to step up in there and make throws. I’m happy for him because he’s had one of those coming.”
The War Eagles had 315 yards of total offense (113 passing, 202 rushing).
“The defense played really well against a team that’s averaging over 30 points a game,” Harrison said. “They’ve scored a lot of points against everybody they’ve played. You’re not going to hold an offense like theirs to nothing. we knew they were going to make some plays on us, but we just had to rebound and play the next one like nothing happened.”
Wilbanks was complimentary of his defense after holding Chestatee to 14 points.
“The defense did an amazing job,” Wilbanks said. “You can’t ask for much more than what they did. To stop that high-powered offense, they did a good job.”
A big part of the defensive game for Habersham Central actually came from the offense. The Raiders were able to get out to such a big lead that they limited Lyles’ and Yarbrough’s opportunities to create big plays.
“They’ve got a really special player in their running back,” Harrison said. “For us to limit his touches a little bit because of the score was definitely a good thing.”
Both teams will take a week off before starting region play at home. Chestatee will host West Hall and Habersham Central will welcome Gainesville to Mount Airy on Oct. 7.
“We’re not going to do a lot of things different,” Conley said of his team’s off week. “We’re going to continue to focus on us and what we can do to get ourselves better. We do that all the time.”
For the Raiders, Harrison said it’s about getting players healthy, namely running back Michael Babers, who suffered an ankle injury Sept. 9 against Franklin County.
“I’ll take the off week,” Harrison said. “We need to get Mike back healthy. He could have played a little more tonight, but we felt like we were OK doing what we were doing.”