If there was anything Chestatee could take away from its scrimmage against East Hall on Thursday, it was its ability to get downfield fast.
The War Eagles showed off their rushing prowess with a strong ground performance against the Vikings in their lone preseason contest, highlighted by several enormous plays that saw their running backs push into open field for breakaway touchdowns.
“Big plays don’t happen unless the guys up front are doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” War Eagles coach Stan Luttrell said. “On both sides of the ball, we feel good about the guys we have up front and the depth that we have. I think those guys played well tonight, and because of that, our skills were able to make big plays with the ball.”
Chestatee, which is coming off the program’s most successful season to date with eight wins in 2012, racked up major ground yardage despite the preseason obstacles of inexperience (only one returning starter on offense) and a major setback in the running game.
Primary running back A.J. Sijiye is expected to miss the entire season after suffering an ACL injury in the preseason. His absence has allowed Chestatee to explore a committee-based rushing game, which is helpful in its triple-option scheme.
It worked to a tee Thursday night, which the War Eagles had a decisive advantage. No official score was kept.
Four different running backs scored touchdowns, three for them for plays 35 yards or longer.
“A.J. is a great player and as unfortunate as that injury is, we have asked some guys to make sure they step up,” Luttrell said. “We have several guys we’re counting on on both sides of the ball, and they did a good job of rotating in and getting reps on both sides of the ball.”
Blake Buffington scored on a 64-yard run on the second play of the game, and Kris Pierce scampered 35 yards for another score on Chestatee’s next possession.
The longest run of the night was a 76-yard haul by Tray Bennett in the third quarter, which ended just short of the goal line on the East Hall 1. Pierce punched in the touchdown on the next play.
Bennett also scored on a 10-yard run in the second quarter.
“Our line has been working really well, and the coaches have been coaching them up really well,” Bennett said. “We just did what we do in practice, and executed.”
Despite all the monster runs, Chestatee’s longest play of the night was one of its few passes.
On the War Eagles’ final possession of the first half, quarterback Wyatt Burgess lobbed a short pass over the top to tight end Khalil Cantrell, who shook off an East Hall defender and turned the play into an 80-yard touchdown play.
Sophomore quarterback Logan Cates capped off Chestatee’s scoring with another long touchdown run in the fourth.
Luttrell was more than pleased with the team’s overall performance. His team has a tough regular season matchup in 2012 Class AAA state semifinalist North Hall in two weeks, so it was crucial that the War Eagles showed some sort of progress in their scrimmage after losing so many starters from last year’s playoff team.
“North Hall is always a big game, whether it’s the first game or the last game,” Luttrell said. “We’re excited to be on the grass and be out here playing with this team. This is a good first step to finding out who they’ll be.”
East Hall, which finished 5-5 last season, scored its lone varsity touchdown on a 48-yard run by Juwan Merritt. The Vikings also scored in fourth quarter on a fumble recovery.
With 10 returning starters on offense and another eight on defense, East Hall is too optimistic about its potential to let a tough scrimmage derail its anticipation for the regular season.
“We wanted to scrimmage the biggest, most physical team we could find, and that’s Chestatee,” Gray said. “We play bulldozers and we’re like a little race car. We have to learn how to move around them and be able to play with the big teams, and that’s what we did.”
The Vikings open the regular season against Dawson County next Friday.
“We accomplished what we wanted tonight,” Gray said. “Sure, we don’t want to give up long touchdowns, but that’s correctable. We have a lot to fix, and we know that, and we’re playing a really, really good team. We’ll just let it all hang out next week and see what happens.”