The Chestatee High football team notched a season-high in points scored behind another monster effort from senior running back Nick Lyles, and the War Eagles topped Lumpkin County 60-32 in a sloppy contest accentuated by a bizarre final quarter Friday night at War Eagle Stadium in Gainesville.
Lyles carried 23 times for 201 yards — three shy of the 2,000-yard mark for his career — and five touchdowns to help the War Eagles (3-2) overcome self-inflicted wounds and fend off a gritty, 29-point, second-half outing by the Indians (0-4). Quarterback Chandler Woodham and running back Luke Smith fronted a Lumpkin County rushing attack that totalled 332 yards over the final two quarters, though the hosts were able to pull away late after some fortunate breaks.
Woodham scrambled for a 50-yard score to cut it to 39-24 with 10 minutes, 25 seconds left. And with Chestatee driving minutes later, a big hit by Indians defensive back Drew Allison at midfield broke up a pivotal pass play on third-down — and briefly awarded the Indians more momentum.
But not for long.
An excessive celebration penalty on Lumpkin County gave Chestatee a first down in its own territory, triggering heated episodes by a number of coaches on Lumpkin County’s sideline, particularly from head coach Shane Williamson. Three additional flags were thrown and Williamson was ejected, placing Chestatee on the Indians’ 29-yard line. The War Eagles capped the unconventional drive with a 2-yard score from Lyles.
A 48-yard touchdown scamper by Chestatee’s Christian Charles, and a Charles Jackson interception returned for a touchdown on Lumpkin’s ensuing drive, put the game to rest in the final two minutes.
When it comes down to it, Chestatee coach Shaun Conley will gladly take an ugly win any day.
“Yeah, ‘bizarre’ is a good word for it,” Conley said of the second half. “Our kids, I thought they kept fighting. Lumpkin made some adjustments at halftime and they were about to get some yardage on us. But we kept fighting and did enough to win.”
A converted fake punt on the Chestatee 40 also proved crucial for the War Eagles in the third quarter. It sustained a 10-play drive, resulting in Lyles’ 11-yard touchdown that came in response to the Indians opening the second half with back-to-back touchdown drives and forcing a Chestatee three-and-out.
“That was huge. That was a key play for us,” said Conley, who described the play as nothing more than personnel adjustment on the fake punt.
Woodham finished with 161 yards and two touchdowns (50 and 61 yards). Smith (152 yards) and running back Evan Abernathy (63) added touchdowns in the second half to help the Indians in their biggest scoring effort this season.
Chestatee led 32-3 at the half, but that early success didn’t come without some rust. The War Eagles turned it over twice on three first-half fumbles and committed 45 yards’ worth of penalties out the gate on Homecoming night.
The War Eagles coughed up the football on the second play from scrimmage inside their own 10-yard line. The Indians recovered and converted the game’s first turnover into points four plays later via a Wesley Wells 26-yard field goal.
The War Eagles responded quickly on their second drive, which gradually moved them inside Lumpkin County’s 15-yard line. But a blindside block on the sixth play slowed the charge, and the War Eagles pulled a 40-yard field goal attempt wide left.
“It was (one of those nights),” Conley said. “I’m not sure what it was, but we got off to a slow start. But those kids are pretty resilient, and they kept fighting. I didn’t feel like we were ever giving up. We kept battling until the end, and we did what we had to do. It was ugly, but I’ll take it.”
A worrisome start suddenly turned into a game breaking wide open for Chestatee as it racked up 32 unanswered points on the winless Indians. Four big hookups from quarterback Storm Yarbrough (6 of 17, 70 yards) to senior wideout Jacob Goodall (five catches, 50 yards) set up Lyles for his first touchdown, a 3-yard run to cap a six-play drive.
Lyles added scores on his next two carries. A botched snap that sailed over the head of Lumpkin County’s punter allowed Lyles to walk into the end zone from one yard out on the next snap. A Matthew Jarrard fumble recovery on Lumpkin County’s ensuing drive set up Lyles for his second score, a 37-yard run.
A 39-yard scoop and score by senior linebacker Reggie James on a fumble recovery, and a 30-yard field goal by Steven Martinez finished up Chestatee's first-half surge.
Despite the game’s craziness, Conley still agreed a win like this could give his team some much-needed momentum moving forward in the season.
“We’re 3-2, which is good for us,” he said. “Hopefully we can build on that and correct some of the mistakes. A lot of our mistakes tonight were self-inflicted. We got to fix that stuff, and those are things we harp on all the time — control our controllables.”
Chestatee continues its non-region slate next week against Habersham Central, while Lumpkin County opens Region 7-AAA play against East Hall. Both games will kick off at 7:30 p.m. Friday.