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Game of the Week: Chestatee visits Lanier in pivotal Region 8-AAAA matchup
Chestatee running back Zac Cheshire breaks free from Johson defenders while carrying the ball for the War Eagles during the first half of a game on Oct. 4 at War Eagle Stadium. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times

Chestatee at Lanier
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Longhorns Stadium, Sugar Hill
Coaches: Chestatee, Stan Luttrell; Lanier, Billy Wells
Records: Chestatee (5-1, 3-0 Region 8-AAAA); Lanier (5-1, 2-1)
Key players: Chestatee, RB Zac Cheshire (5-7, 140 Sr.); TE/DL Khalil Cantrell (5-10, 260 Sr.); QB Wyatt Burgess (5-11, 155 Sr.). Lanier, RB Tario Fuller (6-0, 180 Jr.); QB Canyon Cook (6-0, 170 Jr.); LB Michael Shaw (6-4, 204 Sr.).

High school football previews

A home playoff game could be on the line Friday in Sugar Hill when the Chestatee War Eagles visit the Lanier Longhorns in a pivotal Region 8-AAAA matchup.

Chestatee (5-1, 3-0) is currently in a tie with fourth-ranked Monroe Area for first place in the region standings, one game ahead of Lanier (5-1, 2-1).

Although the Longhorns have already lost to Monroe Area, a win over the War Eagles would put them in the discussion of hosting their first-ever playoff game and would likely force Chestatee to have to win the rest of its games — including Nov. 1 against unbeaten Monroe — to avoid going on the road in the first round.

A Chestatee win, however, would add even more intrigue to what could be the region championship game against the Purple Hurricanes, while keeping alive the War Eagles’ chances of hosting a playoff game for the second straight season.

“We’ve tried to talk to our guys about every game is a big game and it’s just the next guy up,” Luttrell said. “This week it just happens to be another good football team and it has huge playoff implications, as far as home field.”

Lanier, a school nestled in the northern part of Gwinnett County between two top-ranked programs, North Gwinnett and Buford, is only in its second season of playing a full varsity schedule, but it has already tied its season win total from last season at five. Now, the Longhorns are trying to win a marquee game, something the team has yet to accomplish since the school opened its doors in 2010.

The Longhorns had a chance to put their name on the football map a few weeks ago, but were blown out by Monroe Area, 56-28. On Friday, the Longhorns get their second chance at a program-defining win when they host a Chestatee team that is in the midst of a five-game winning streak and is eyeing its first-ever region championship.

“We spend so much time on getting our guys to focus on ourselves,” Luttrell said. “We’ve watched plenty of film as a team, especially as a coaching staff, and our team knows who Lanier is.

“But we are really focused on ourselves and what we have to do to beat Lanier.”

The War Eagles have several key wins throughout their history, but they have never won a playoff game in three postseason appearances. A victory tonight could put them back in position to host a playoff game against either the three or four seed from Region 6 come mid November.

All five of Chestatee’s victories this season have come in different ways. From a fourth-quarter rally to beat West Hall to a pair of region shutouts against Stephens County and Walnut Grove, the War Eagles feel as though they’ve been through a challenging schedule that has prepared them for tough opponents like Lanier and Monroe.

“Our guys have played well in big games and this is another big one,” Luttrell said.

Both teams feature strong running games. Chestatee is led by senior Zac Cheshire, who stepped up when expected starter A.J. Sijiye went down with a knee injury in the preseason.

The 5-foot-7 back has a team-best 677 yards rushing with 10 touchdowns, while three other Chestatee players have at least 200 yards for the run-first option attack.

Lanier is led by rising star Tario Fuller. The junior is one of the most productive backs in Gwinnett County, racking up 774 yards with 11 touchdowns this season.

Although Fuller stands out when watching game film, Luttrell said he is among several talented players on the Lanier offense.

“They have guys everywhere on offense that can make big plays,” Luttrell said. “(Devin Valentine) is a big play receiver; (Tim Leazer) is the possession receiver. (Fuller) is a solid running back. Their quarterback, I think (Canyon Cook), is a dual threat guy. He has a great arm, he can get it to those receivers, but he can also pull it down and get it done with his legs.

“I think they’re probably, to date, the biggest and fastest football team we’ve played.”

Both rushing attacks could be in for a challenge, though. Lanier is limiting its opponents to an average of just 15.8 points but per game, although that number is skewed after the Longhorns surrendered 56 points in the loss to Monroe Area.

Aside from that defeat, the Longhorns haven’t surrendered more than 14 points in a game all season.

Part of the Longhorns’ defensive success stems from their ability to get to the opposing quarterback, something that Chestatee shouldn’t have to worry about tonight if it can control the line of scrimmage, Luttrell said.

Chestatee’s defense has also been stingy this season. The War Eagles have surrendered just seven combined points in the last three weeks and are limiting their opponents to just 8.8 points per game during their five-game winning streak.

“I think we are limiting big plays,” Luttrell said.

“We are great tacklers. In the past three games, our starters haven’t been scored on. Johnson scored on our younger guys.

“We have eight seniors that are starting right now for us and they are acting like it. They’re doing a great job.”