It wasn’t the most conventional win, but Chestatee head coach Shaun Conley will take it.
Nearly five hours after kickoff, after over two hours worth of lightning delays and a game that included seven total turnovers, Conley’s War Eagles stood victorious on the rain soaked field at Vahalla, 34-26, over host East Hall.
“We came back out after the long delay and all that stuff, and there were a million reasons why we could have not played very hard, but they came back out,” Conley said. “Hats off to our defense. They’ve caught a lot of crap all year long, and they played really, really good in the second half. I’m so proud of those cats. Words can’t say.”
Chestatee quarterback Christian Charles led the way for the War Eagles, completing 17 of 27 pass attempts for 180 yards and a touchdown with a pair of interceptions, and adding 162 yards on the ground and a pair of rushing scores.
Most of the offense for both sides came in a first half that saw the two teams go blow for blow for the entirety of the 24 minutes. After trading touchdowns in the first quarter, Chestatee matched a passing touchdown from Charles to Seth Pressley and a rushing score from Hunter Chambers with a kick return touchdown from East Hall’s Montavious Tabor and a 5-yard dive from Vikings quarterback Clete Cooper. Going into the break, the War Eagles held a precarious 21-20 lead.
But the lightning returned while the teams were in their locker rooms, and after a two-hour delay, both squads came out sloppier in the second half of play.
Offense was hard to come by for both teams, but a pair of fourth quarter rushing scores from Charles were enough to keep Chestatee ahead long enough to outlast the Vikings on the road. An illegal forward pass from Cooper on the final East Hall drive of the game killed any chance of a home team comeback.
Here's three things to know from the game:
(Don’t) blame it on the rain
A potential shootout in Valhalla was brewing in the first half of the game, but the lightning and a torrential downpour during halftime seemed to dampen the offenses as well as the field.
While both quarterbacks were sharp and accurate in the first 24 minutes of the game, the second 24 saw more incompletions than completions and more interceptions than touchdown passes.
After airing it out with regularity in the first half, both teams turned toward a ground attack in the second half, with Chestatee power back Hunter Chambers carrying the ball 19 times in the final half.
Though it was far from a conventional finish, and the more than two-hour delay certainly had an impact on the game, Conley said he was simply happy with the end result of the contest.
“We won,” he said. “I don’t care if we get a rain delay every week if we can do that.”
Charles comes through in the clutch
Charles was not perfect on the day, but he did exactly what his team needed from him, especially when it mattered most.
After throwing an interception to Mon Prather and failing to convert a fourth down try in the third quarter, Charles shook off the negative plays to close things out in the final period. With the game on the line and the passing game not working, Charles relied on his legs, chugging away for 77 yards and a pair of rushing scores in the final 12 minutes.
It wasn’t a pretty game by any stretch of the imagination, but it was enough to pull out the win.
“(Charles) made plays when he needed to make plays, and that’s what he’s done for three years now,” Conley said. “I’m super proud of him.”
Defense steps up when neededWhile the Chestatee’s offense certainly took a step back in the second half, the War Eagles defense played its best in the clutch.
Chestatee held Vikings QB Cooper to only 6 of 16 passing for 83 yards and an interception over the final two periods, regularly getting pressure early in plays and forcing him to throw the ball away. On fourth and 12 with under two minutes to play, the War Eagle pass rush flushed Cooper out of the pocket to his right, and hardly even let him get a throw off as he tossed the ball out of bounds to seal Chestatee’s win.
After a rough season defensively in 2018 and a shaky start to 2019, Conley said he was glad to see his defense start to pick up some rhythm.
“They’ve been getting better and better and better,” he said. “They’re starting to believe that they can do it. I can’t be more proud of them. They played their tails off. They’ve caught a lot of flack from last year, but this ain’t last year’s defense. It’s a different defense. Hats off to them.”