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War Eagles slip by Spartans 15-14 in emotional thriller
West Hall’s Hunter Atkinson hauls in a long pass late Friday night in the first quarter of the Spartans’ game with Chestatee at War Eagle Stadium.

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War Eagles 15, Spartans 14

Difference maker: Zac Cheshire, Chestatee. Cheshire played both sides of the ball Friday night and made his impact fell. Offensively, the senior finished with a game-high 100 yards rushing on 21 carries, scoring both of Chestatee’s touchdowns.

Stat that matters: Chestatee turned the ball over on downs twice and lost two fumbles, but managed to overcome the turnovers to secure the win.

Turning point: On just the second play of the second half, West Hall had an 89-yard touchdown pass get called back due to a holding penalty. Instead of the score, the Spartans punted. When they scored in the fourth quarter, the Spartans led by just seven, instead of the two-touchdown advantage they would have had if it weren’t for the holding penalty on the long scoring play.

Who’s next: Chestatee is idle next week and visits Eastside Sept. 20. West Hall visits Lumpkin County next Friday night in the Spartans’ final nonregion game of the season.

West Hall gave Chestatee one of the most exciting finishes in the series’ history on Friday night. Unfortunately for the Spartans, their performance was still not enough to get the win.

Spartans’ kicker Bradley Hodgson pushed a game-winning 38-yard field goal attempt wide left with just 15 seconds remaining as Chestatee (1-1) secured its first victory of the season with a 15-14 win at War Eagles Stadium.

“I’m so proud of our players,” Chestatee coach Stan Luttrell said. “There were so many times where they could have fell apart but they drew closer together.”

The loss for West Hall (1-1) capped an emotional week. The Spartans had a player injured during practice Monday, only later to find out at the hospital that he needs immediate surgery for a nonfootball head injury, according to head coach Tony Lotti.

The player, who Lotti would not identify, will never play football again. So Friday night, the Spartans gave it everything they had for their teammate.

“It has just been a week full of adversity for our Spartan family,” said Lotti, clearly emotional after the game.

“We played with a great effort, a great heart. ... It’s just been a rough week for us. Sometimes in life you just get crappy cards. We were dealt crappy cards this week and I am proud of how our kids came out.”

Playing with a heavy heart, West Hall never trailed until the 5:31 mark of the fourth quarter, when Chestatee quarterback Wyatt Burgess crashed into the end zone to convert a two-point conversion, giving the War Eagles the 15-14 lead.

Luttrell opted for the two-point conversion instead of the game-tying extra point after a timeout, saying he had faith in his offense to get three yards with the momentum it had built.

“I felt like we were on a little bit of a roll and we saw something I felt like we had,” said Luttrell, who thanked each of his seniors after the win.

“Obviously, West Hall was giving us all we wanted and our guys stepped up. We got on a roll and, well, what a great game.”

Burgess’ conversion came after Zac Cheshire scored his second touchdown of the game on a 7-yard run in the fourth quarter. The score capped a quick six-play, 73-yard drive for the War Eagles, the majority of it coming on a 47-yard run from William Fayson.

“What a great experience to come from behind when several things go against them in the game,” Luttrell said. “And they fight and fight and come out on top at the end of the game.”

Following Chestatee’s touchdown, West Hall drove the field, setting up Hodgson with the potential game-winning field goal in the closing seconds. The missed kick was so close West Hall players started to celebrate before realizing it sailed outside the uprights.

On the final drive, the Spartans used a pass interference call on fourth-and-9 to keep their drive alive, moving to the 21-yard line before stalling and settling for the field goal.

“This program, in the past, would have never even come close to being in that situation,” Lotti said. “I have a great group of kids and I just don’t know if I could be more proud of them if we had come out on top or not.”

Both teams had their chances in the game, but the biggest missed opportunity came in the opening minute of the third quarter when West Hall had an 89-yard touchdown pass from Zach English to Kwon Williams get called back on the second play of the third quarter by a holding penalty.

Instead of the touchdown, the Spartans punted two plays later. They added their second touchdown of the game early in the fourth quarter.

“It was huge that the play got called back,” Lotti said. “And I’ll be honest with you, I’m not going to talk about that play. That is probably the most ethical thing for me to do right now.”

On the Spartans’ touchdown early in the fourth quarter, English found Hunter Atkinson on a 27-yard score in the corner of the end zone, coming on fourth-and-3 from the Chestatee 27.

Atkinson finished with a season-high nine catches for 97 yards, while English was 12-for-22 with 166 yards and a touchdown.

For Chestatee, Cheshire finished with a game-high 100 yards rushing on 21 carries with both War Eagle touchdowns, while Blake Buffington finished with 46 yards rushing on 15 carries.

“(Cheshire) is one of those seniors who has been working in our program for years and this is his time,” Luttrell said. “How exciting it is to see him make plays like that. He isn’t one of the biggest guys, he is one of the smallest guys, but he is a product of our program.”

West Hall opened the scoring 49 seconds into the second quarter when Antonio Pittman (51 yards rushing on 16 carries) scored from 3 yards out.

The score capped the Spartans’ longest drive of the game, which featured them use 11 plays to travel 73 yards down the field.

After Chestatee’s following drive ended in its own red zone on a lost fumble, the War Eagle defense forced West Hall to a three-and-out, setting up the offense with starting field position at the Spartan 39.

Three plays later, Cheshire spun off a pair of West Hall defenders and sprinted down the home sideline for a 25-yard game-tying touchdown.

West Hall finished with 217 yards of total offense, while Chestatee totaled 244 yards of offense in the win.

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