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Game of the week: West Hall, Chestatee reset for Region 7-4A opener
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West Hall running back Jeremiah Prather (12) runs with the ball during the game between Gainesville High and West Hall in Gainesville, on Friday. - photo by David Barnes

West Hall coach Tony Lotti doesn’t get much sleep during football season, and it doesn’t stem from the adrenaline-packed Friday nights at the Hot Gates of Spartan Field.

Lotti’s quick turnarounds on Friday nights are almost automatic. Immediately following his team’s postgame debriefing, he rushes home to shower, do laundry and then pack before hopping back in his truck for the 2 a.m. haul to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta. Lotti then catches the red-eye flight to whichever city son Anthony — sophomore punter for the University of Wisconsin Badgers — is playing that Saturday.

The time spent with his son is usually short. But for those few precious hours, in his mind, sleep is overrated.

“That’s kind of how my weeks go,” Lotti said.

His Spartans (4-2) have had to endure a similar type of grind to start the season. One scrimmage plus six-straight games had Lotti’s team aching for a breather by the end of its Sept. 22 loss to Rabun County. 

Lotti said last week’s open date was much-needed for his players to heal and regroup in their preparation for the real “Week Zero,” a Region 7-4A opener against cross-county foe Chestatee at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Spartan Field in Oakwood.

Lotti said he’s been pleased by his players’ response during the break and looks for the Spartans to apply those small improvements against Chestatee (4-2).

“It’s a region game, the first for us and them too. So it’s gonna be big,” Lotti said. “They’re right up the street, so any time schools around here play each other, people get excited.” 

The Spartans’ biggest task, to no surprise, will be slowing the charge of some explosive pieces on the War Eagles’ offense, with running back Nick Lyles (1,091 total yards, 20 touchdowns) certainly being their top priority. One of the top bellcows in the state, Lyles’ 281 rushing yards and four touchdowns on Sept. 22 sent him past the 2,000-yard career milestone and boosted his team past Class 6A Habersham Central for a 41-37 win.

The come-from-behind triumph appeared to do more for the War Eagles, not only offsetting a brutal 26-point loss to the Raiders from a season ago but revealing something coach Shaun Conley had never seen in his time with the team.

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Chestatee's Jacob Goodall races downfield with the ball as North Hall's David Seavey grabs at his jersey Friday night during the first half of the War Eagles' big win over the Trojans at War Eagle Stadium. - photo by Scott Rogers

“That win was a big one for our program. It was the first time since I’ve been here we’ve been able to come back in the second half from that big of a deficit,” Conley said. “Habersham is a really good team, and they just kept clicking on all cylinders. Our kids just kept fighting.”

And, just maybe, it was an indication to Conley this team has turned the corner at the right time.

“I hope so,” Conley added. “You know, that was our sixth-straight game. We were banged up and in need of that bye week. ... I think it’s a game we can look back on and kind of build off that. ... We’re expecting a great game (against West Hall).”

Conley continues to applaud Lotti’s ability to assemble whatever pieces available into talented rosters year-in and year-out. The talents of senior Cooper Adams (15 carries, 298 yards, one touchdown) and sophomore quarterback Michael Thompson (556 total yards, five touchdowns) have helped steer the offense in the right direction.

Conley will expect nothing less from his opposing coach when the two programs meet tonight for the 14th time. After all, the stakes are high for this five-team region moving forward.

“For us, the non-region was to prepare us for this,” Lotti said. “You can be 6-0 right now and not make the playoffs. It starts now. So we’re gonna find out if the games we played leading up until now have prepared us to compete in the region.”

Following tonight’s ever-important region opener, the  coach will be catching another flight.

Last year, Lotti managed to make an appearance at every one of Anthony’s games. So far this fall, that tradition lives on. Lotti was in the stands for the Badgers’ road contest against BYU (Utah) and at home against Northwestern (Iliinois), during which his own No. 15 booted a pair of booming punted to pin the Wildcats deep. 

He’ll be watching closely this Saturday from inside Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska. 

Due to Lotti being at the mercy of booking his flights far in advance, the coach admitted he was a little irritated after an 8 p.m. kickoff was confirmed for this week’s Big 10 West game. It only means another tiresome Sunday. 

But it’s not an issue for a coach who has done it many times before.

“(I) do all that, and then bust it to get back here on time for my meetings, stay there until about 8 p.m. Sunday, and then repeat the whole process Monday morning,” the coach said with a laugh.

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