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Game of the week: Chestatee, White County fight to stay alive in playoff hunt
Chestatee Football
Chestatee quarterback Storm Yarbrough (7) runs with the ball during a game between West Hall and Chestatee in Gainesville, on Oct. 6, 2017. - photo by David Barnes

There’s no way around it. Playoff implications are on the line for the Chestatee High football team this week.

For the second-year in a row, the War Eagles’ (4-4, 0-2 Region 7-4A) only way to the state playoffs will be through White County when they meet for a late-season region battle at War Eagle Field Friday night. 

“We can’t fool the kids. They know basically what’s at stake,” said Conley, whose team enters this critical region game with only two weeks remaining on the docket.

Of the many puzzling factors to determine Chestatee’s playoff fate, a win Friday coupled with a White County loss to West Hall next week would , for the moment, put Conley’s team through to the next phase of the season for back-to-back seasons. Chestatee fell to eventual Class 4A champion Cartersville in the opening round last November.

 Conley, of course, pays most attention to the simplest approach.

“It’s crazy I’m telling ya,” laughed  Conley. “...It’s like, the best thing we can do is just win.”

As for the opposition, a win would greatly benefit White County, which has not reached the playoffs since 2014.

Last year, the War Eagles edged the Warriors (5-2, 0-1) on the road, despite the absence of star running back Nick Lyles, and Conley having to start seven freshmen. 

“Our kids battled the entire game, and that’s what it’s gonna take again this year,” the coach said. (White County is) playing much better. I think they had a lot of young kids too (last year). They’re playing much better this year. And you know, the coaching staff up there is doing a great job, having them play with a lot of belief. We’re expecting a battle again this year.”

It hasn’t been experience to determine the Warriors’ fate this season. It’s one coach’s philosophy of taking care of themselves while clearly understanding the task at hand each week that has the program off to its best start in years. Some wise words from a renowned writer helps too.

“I’m getting to where I’ve been around a little while. There’s a writer named Og Mandino who says experience is wasted on dead men,” laughed coached Tim Cokely, who has White County on the cusp of the postseason in his first year. 

Cokely coached in Tallahassee, Fla. before accepting the position at White County earlier this year. The Leon High Lions were 18-23 under Cokely, and reached the playoffs in three of his four years at the helm.

 “We’ve got some young guys, some old guys. We’ve got some guys who’ve been around, and some who haven’t been around. I just want guys to play well and play hard, you know? Our team and our county is excited in our football team. …For us, it’s less about the experience playing and more about the experience. We’re just really happy with have this experience, this opportunity to play a team as great as Chestatee.” 

Slight modifications to the play calling, including more of an aerial attack as well as giving Kaleb Crane from quarterback to running back have made the Warriors a legitimate force on offense. Cokely noted Crane’s positive results from the change of scenery.

“They’re spreading it around throwing the ball a good bit,” Conley said. “Kaleb Crane, he’s a lot like Nick (Lyles). They kind of goes as he goes. So there’s good similarities between the two teams.”

The Warriors will look to slow one of the state’s reputable workhorse backs in the state with Lyles, who for the season has 958 yards and 20 total touchdowns -- 2,285 for his career. Chestatee offense has averaged 28 points a contest behind Lyles and quarterback Storm Yarbrough (61 completions, 824 yards, seven touchdowns, five interceptions). Garnering attention from various DI schools, senior linebacker Reggie James (39 total tackles, INT) bolster’s the War Eagle defense through his knack for laying down the hard hits behind the line of scrimmage

“That makes for an exciting atmosphere Friday night, and we’re just happy to be in the position we’re in being at 5-2, and the opportunity to play them is great,” Cokely said.

“We’re really focused on ourselves, but we know what the task is, and that is to try to contain their offense, which has been prolific at times this year. We understand what it is, but for the most part we just try to do our job and get our guys thinking they need to play well.”

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