Purple Hurricanes 28, War Eagles 21
Difference maker: Kwan Brooks led the Monroe Area offense with 90 yards on 20 carries and a 19-yard game-winning touchdown with 8:31 left in the game. With seven Monroe Area starters sidelined due to suspensions, Brooks turned out to be the Purple Hurricanes’ field general.
Stat that matters: Monroe Area averaged 5.85 yards per carry, 3.35 yards more than Chestatee’s average allowance this season. The Purple Hurricanes recovered all three War Eagle fumbles.
Turning point: With Brooks’ go-ahead touchdown, Chestatee needed a big drive to tie the game up, and little time to do it. The War Eagles worked their way down to the Monroe Area 18, but couldn’t convert a fourth down and handled the ball back to the Purple Hurricanes with just over a minute left to play.
Who’s next: Chestatee hosts Madison County next Friday; Monroe Area hosts Eastside.
MONROE – For the second straight year, the Region 8-AAAA title will remain narrowly out of reach of Chestatee.
The War Eagles saw a their halftime lead disappear in the second half Friday as No. 4 Monroe Area rallied from a touchdown deficit to win 28-21 and secure another region title on Friday at the Purple Pit.
Chestatee (7-2, 5-1 Region 8-AAAA) took a 21-14 lead into halftime and needed to stay ahead just two more quarters to clinch its first-ever region title. But a pair of costly turnovers led to just enough scores for the Purple Hurricanes (9-0, 6-0) to jump ahead late and spoil the War Eagles’ celebrations.
“The hard part about this is that we didn’t play perfect, but we definitely played hard,” Chestatee coach Stan Luttrell said. “We felt like we had a chance to win there at the end.”
Monroe Area, which also defeated Chestatee to win the region title a season ago, turned both of the War Eagles’ second-half fumbles into points on the ensuing drive.
The first turnover allowed the Purple Hurricanes to tie the game at 21 midway through the third quarter with a 29-yard pass from quarterback Michael Gallup to Demek Kemp on a fourth-and-8 conversion.
The second, coming one play after Chestatee forced a turnover on downs, allowed Purple Hurricanes running back Kwan Brooks to score the go-ahead 19-yard touchdown with 8:31 left in the fourth quarter.
“The turnovers in the second half just killed our drives,” Luttrell said. “Our defense played awesome in the second half and gave us a chance to win. We just can’t turn the ball over. We have big plays to make that we were a step away from making.”
The War Eagles had one more chance to tie the game on their final offensive drive of the game, marching 60 yards to the Monroe Area 20 with 1:10 left to play. They couldn’t convert a fourth-and-6 situation, with quarterback Wyatt Burgess’ pass attempt tipped out of the hands of Noah Baxter near the end zone.
Regardless of the loss, Chestatee will start the state playoffs at home as the No. 2 seed from Region 8-AAAA, facing the No. 3 seed from Region 6-AAAA.
The War Eagles are still looking for their first-ever playoff win.
“We have a standard that we expect to play to, and we didn’t meet that standard tonight,” Luttrell said. “We’ll get better.”
Monroe Area pulled off the victory despite missing seven players to suspension, stemming from a fight during last Friday’s game against Madison County.
Among those players was starting quarterback Stanton Truitt, an Auburn commit who has over 1,000 rushing yards this season.
“There were no excuses for what happened last week and having those kids not play,” Monroe Area coach Matt Fligg said. “That’s the way it is, and the kids had to learn their lesson.”
Brooks, also a 1,000-yard rusher, became the identity of his team’s offense, and his numbers showed it. He rushed for 90 yards on 20 carries, highlighted by the eventual game-winning touchdown run.
With Truitt missing, the Purple Hurricanes utilized a dual-quarterback strategy between Gallup and Jacob Olson. It worked, as both players rushed for first-half touchdowns, and Gallup passed for another.
Olson (Four carries, 56 yards) gave Monroe Area its longest play of the night just five plays into the game with a 51-yard run that put the Purple Hurricanes up 7-0 early.
Chestatee countered on the very next play with an 88-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Justin Spears, marking the second straight game with a kickoff return score for the War Eagles.
Gallup, typically a wide receiver, used his speed at quarterback and put Monroe Area up 14-7 with 2:05 left in the first quarter on a 33-yard run. He finished the game with 49 yards on nine carries.
Chestatee opened the second quarter by taking advantage of Monroe Area interception pulled down by Tray Bryant, putting the War Eagles on the Purple Hurricanes’ 36-yard line.
To provide a physical spark to its running game, Chestatee inserted 260-pound defensive lineman Khalil Cantrell into the running game, and five rushes into his night he gave his team a 23-yard touchdown that put the War Eagles within one early in the second quarter after the PAT snap was botched.
Cantrell ended up with 65 rushing yards on 13 carries.
“Just another bigger, physical back,” Luttrell said. “I think he did an excellent job. He and Tray Bryant both are bigger, more physical backs.”
It ended up being Chestatee’s smaller back, Zac Cheshire, that gave the War Eagles their first lead of the night on their next drive. He broke open for a 41-yard touchdown run, followed by a successful two-point conversion that allowed the War Eagles to take a 21-14 lead with two minutes remaining in the half.
Cheshire, Chestatee’s leading rusher this season, finished the game with 123 yards on 20 carries.
“Cheshire was unbelievable tonight,” Luttrell said. “He made some huge plays.”