Chestatee coach Stan Luttrell hopes the sting of Friday’s 35-14 loss to Monroe Area in Gainesville doesn’t linger too long.
The War Eagles (7-2, 5-1 Region 8-AAAA) still have a great shot at hosting the school’s first playoff game in school history, needing only a win against Madison County next Friday to make that happen.
“We just have to learn from our mistakes we made tonight,” Luttrell said.
With the win, Monroe Area (9-0, 6-0) claimed only its second region championship in school history, as a result of a Stephens County (7-2, 4-2) win against Eastside.
The Purple Hurricanes took control of the game early behind the running of junior quarterback Michael Gallup, who rushed for all three of their first-quarter touchdowns. Gallup also threw a pair of touchdown passes.
Gallup finished with a game-high 25 carries for 175 yards. Kwan Brooks had 19 carries for 125 yards for Monroe Area.
“Their quarterback did an excellent job,” Luttrell said. “We knew coming in that their speed was the biggest challenge.
“They have athletes very similar to the ones we’ve faced from Eastside and Stephens County.”
The deciding factor of the game was the turnovers. Chestatee turned it over five times, four times on fumbles. In the third quarter, a pair of turnovers negated great defensive play and adjustments made against Gallup by the Chestatee defense.
Monroe Area put the game away after the second Chestatee turnover in the third quarter. After taking the ball back late in the third quarter, Monroe Area scored on the first play of the fourth quarter on a 25-yard pass from Gallup to a leaping T.J. Sigmund in the back of the end zone.
“It was frustrating with the turnovers because we realize we didn’t play Chestatee football,” War Eagles sophomore running back A.J. Sijiye said. “We didn’t play like we practice.”
Despite trailing early in the game, Chestatee never backed down. Down 14-0 in the first quarter, War Eagles quarterback Jordan Degraff ran it in on a score from the 17. Then in the second quarter, Degraff capped an eight-play drive with a 22-yard touchdown pass to Quan Clark.
Despite Chestatee’s ability to keep the game close, Monroe Area always had an answer. Just before halftime and leading by a touchdown, Gallup orchestrated a touchdown drive right before intermission. On a third and long, he kept the drive alive with a 15-yard pass to Sean Garrison.
With only 13 seconds remaining, it was Garrison again that hauled in an 11-yard throw from Gallup in the back of the end zone, extending Monroe Area’s lead to 28-14 at the end of the first half.
Trailing by two scores in the third quarter, the War Eagles were relentless on defense, keeping Gallup from breaking any long runs and adding two drive-ending sacks on the Purple Hurricanes quarterback.
However, the War Eagles offense missed out on opportunities with good field position. Along with a pair of turnovers, Chestatee also came up short on a fourth-down run attempt.
“The turnovers were the biggest thing tonight,” Degraff said. “We just have to move past this one and be ready for the next game next Friday.”
What Gallup did in the first quarter turned out to be the deciding factor. He broke off a 52-yard touchdown run on the first play of the game. His touchdown run on the Purple Hurricanes' second drive was equally impressive. Tiptoeing along the sideline and dodging defenders, Gallup broke loose and ran it in from 29 yards.
Monroe Area’s second score was set up by a Sigmund interception.
Monroe Area went up 21-7 in the final minute of the first quarter with Gallup’s run from the 2. The Purple Hurricanes’ quarterback moved the drive quickly downfield thanks to a 25-yard completion to Sigmund, followed by Gallup’s two consecutive runs for 8 yards each.
Monroe Area’s average starting field position on its three first-quarter scores was its own 46 yard line. The Purple Hurricanes successfully recovered all three of Chestatee’s onside kick attempts in the first half.
Sijiye finished as Chestatee’s leading rusher with 15 carries for 65 yards and Degraff added 63 yards.
On Friday, Chestatee visits Madison County in Danielsville; Monroe Area visits Eastside in Covington.