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East seniors edge West with gutsy fourth-quarter call in FCA East-West Football Classic
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Lakeview's Thaddeus Webb (10) for the West All-Star team throws a pass during the Fellowship of Christian Athletes East-West Football Classic Saturday at Maginnis Field in Gainesville. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Even though Gainesville High’s Chandler Staton came up just a bit short on a very long game-winning field goal attempt for the West squad, he likely did plenty in Saturday’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes East-West Football Classic to bolster his college prospects as National Signing Day nears.

Trailing 11-10 with just five seconds remaining in the game at Riverside Military’s Maginnis Field, Staton took to the field with a chance to win it on a 57-yard field goal. Almost any other kicker wouldn’t have the chance to kick one for so long.

However, Staton made a name for himself during his career as a Red Elephant for being capable of extremely long kicks.

With modified rules in the All-Star Game for seniors from representing all the high schools in Hall, Banks and Jackson Counties, Staton knew he could kick with a lower angle with the defense unable to rush. With defenders waving their hands in the air to try to distract Staton, he was able to soundly get his right foot into the ball. Despite putting the kick right down the middle, it came up less than a yard short of the cross bar.

“I couldn’t tell when I kicked it if it was good,” said a grinning Staton, who hit a 45-yard kick with plenty to spare in the third quarter. He also drilled a 35-yard field goal with about 20 yards extra on the end during halftime, which won a lucky fan $2,500 through a raffle sponsored by Milton Martin Toyota.

Right now, Staton said his main suitor is Kennesaw State University. However, that is likely to change with the showing he put on in front of a strong crowd for the final high school outing for all the seniors from a three-county area.

“This was just an awesome experience,” said Staton, whose longest kick during his senior season was 49 yards. “It was so much fun to have one last chance to play with all these guys.”

The long game-winning attempt was made possible with three runs of about 10 yards each from Gainesville’s Chris Byrd for the West in the final minute. Even with the clock running down and only a couple timeouts remaining, West quarterback Thad Webb, from Lakeview Academy, said the plan was to let the big running back try to plow through the defense.

“(Byrd’s) a monster, so we had to keep feeding the monster” said Webb, who threw a first-half touchdown to Commerce’s J’Varius Wood in the final minute of the first half.

The East grabbed the final 11-10 lead on a touchdown run and two-point conversion with only 1:30 left in the game.

The East got into scoring position with three pass completions by Riverside Military’s Kaseem Duke on the go-ahead drive, even though moving the ball through the air was a challenge for both sides all afternoon. Players only had three practices together to get on the same page.

Trailing 10-3 late in the fourth quarter, Duke got to work with a 17-yard completion for the East to East Hall’s Rex Purgason, who was open in the middle of a triangle made by West defenders. Only a couple plays later, Flowery Branch’s Kyle King snagged the ball away from a West defender at about the 5 on a throw from Duke, who was right at home on his high school field.

Then after an offsides penalty by the West moved the ball down to the 3, Duke snuck the ball in the end zone for the East’s only touchdown.

“I’ve played in big games before, so I was ready,” said Duke, who was starting quarterback at Dunwoody High as a junior.

After the score, the East rolled the dice and went for the two-point play to take the lead — something that would be much less likely to be attempted in a regular-season game. Lining up in the wildcat formation, Flowery Branch wide receiver Cortez Davis took the snap and just before being tackled, pitched it to East Hall’s speedy running back Jiel Vargas, who stretched at the goal line to get the ball across.

Vargas also had the longest play of the game, a 34-yard run in the first half for the East.

“This game was so much fun today,” said Vargas, who still isn’t sure if he’ll have the chance to play in college. “It was just a great time to get out here and play with my brothers one more time.”

Webb got the West offense going on its first scoring drive with four minutes left in the first half. After he scampered for the West’s initial first down on a 15-yard run to sideline, another 15-yards was tacked on for a personal foul after he took a very hard hit once he was already out of bounds.

Then with the ball down at the East 20, Webb picked up 8 yards on another keeper. With less than a minute left in the opening half, Webb hit Wood in stride for the touchdown in the back of the end zone.

“This game today was so much fun,” said Webb, who holds a scholarship offer from Division-I Alcorn State University. “It exceeded all my expectations.”

After Vargas’ run late in the first quarter, Riverside’s left-footed Jordan Ainsle booted through a 32-yard kick for the East and the first points of the game.

On the defensive side, Banks County’s Logan Hubbard had a fumble recovery and Jefferson’s Darrian Hill had an interception for the East. For the West, North Hall’s Dylan Murphy had an interception from his linebacker spot.

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