The young Chestatee War Eagles, who took their lumps last season, are growing up.
And after Friday’s 46-13 thumping of Johnson, coach Stan Luttrell’s team has the look of an emerging force in Region 8A-AAA.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves now,” cautioned Luttrell. “We’re happy to be 2-0, but we still have a ways to go.”
Chestatee showed off an array of weapons and a junior quarterback in Jordan Degraff capable of utilizing them on Friday in front of a large crowd at War Eagles Stadium.
Degraff threw three touchdowns to three different receivers, two coming in a decisive third quarter that saw the War Eagles (2-0) score 25 points. Degraff also added a short touchdown run and finished with 187 total yards, 141 coming through the air.
Six different War Eagles scored touchdown, including two on the ground from Brandon Thompson. Montrai Tate’s 10-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter put Chestatee up by 33.
The War Eagles never trailed, but Johnson stayed in the game, thanks to a deceptive running attack featuring A.J. Millwood and Cedric Harris. Millwood scored on a 44-yard misdirection play in the first quarter that drew the Knights within one at 7-6. Harris had an electric 85-yard punt return that had Johnson down by only 14 with 5:09 left in the third quarter.
But Chestatee had an answer for every Johnson challenge. Three plays after Harris’ touchdown return, Degraff hit Tony Fayson on an 87-yard touchdown pass on third-and-20.
Things snowballed from there, with Johnson turning it over on its next possession, leading to Thompson’s second touchdown run of the game and putting the War Eagles up comfortably, 40-13, with three minutes left in the quarter.
While the Chestatee offense was lighting up the scoreboard, the War Eagles’ defense was creating opportunities with three turnovers. Junior linebacker Kyle Perry was all over the field. After sitting out the opener, Perry, the team’s leading returning tackler, had multiple tackles for loss — several of the hard-hitting variety — recovered a fumble and forced one. Nick Gladmon had a key interception early, and Jay Lyles also had a fumble recovery.
When asked if his teams was capable of ending the War Eagles’ five-year playoff drought, Perry responded bluntly, “Yes, if we keep working.”
Harris and Millwood combined for 191 of the Knights’ 252 yards rushing. The passing game never got going, though, behind sophomore quarterback Justin Thomson, who finished 3-of-10 for 31 yards.
“We kept fighting, but we’ve got eliminate some of the mistakes, like jumping offsides and lining up incorrectly, if we’re going to compete against a good team like Chestatee,” Knights’ coach Paul Friel said.
Nathanael Peck and Baker McCormack also caught touchdown passes from Degraff, as the War Eagles improved to 2-0 for the first time since 2006.
Quan Clark, one of Chestatee’s top playmaking threats, sat out the fourth quarter and had an ice pack on his left ankle. But Luttrell said it was “just a bruise.”