The sophomore deflected a pass intended for Lumpkin County (5-4, 2-2 Region 7A-AAA) senior Ken Jackson in the end zone in the waning minutes of Chestatee’s 24-22 win over the Indians on Friday night in Dahlonega.
Phillips’ deflection wasn’t the only time during the game that the War Eagles’ defense came up big. Thanks to the defense, and a combined 356 yards rushing and three touchdowns from Chestatee running backs Jo Jo Sweet and Ben Souther, Chestatee (7-2, 3-1) got the win and stays alive in the race for the playoffs.
"We have grown up and showed it tonight," said Chestatee coach Stan Luttrell. "Lumpkin County has a great team, Tommy Jones (Lumpkin County coach) has just done a tremendous job here."
The War Eagles’ new-found, grown-up mentality was tested in the early minutes of the game. After two fumbles on Chestatee’s first two possessions, the second of which was recovered by Lumpkin County, the Indians’ senior quarterback Daniel Abercrombie hit senior running back Cameron Jackson on a screen pass on a third-and-15. Jackson scampered 24 yards to the end zone.
Cameron Jackson finished the game with 77 yards rushing on 11 carries for a touchdown as well as two catches for 24 yards and a touchdown.
Chestatee answered on its ensuing possession: a 14-play, 5-minute, 80-yard drive that ended with senior running back Jo Jo Sweet scoring his first of three touchdowns on the night. The first was a 12-yard run around the left side of his offensive line. He finished the game with 212 yards on 30 carries.
"I don’t think it really had that much to do with me," Sweet said. "It had to do with our offensive line and then we had a big night from Ethan Souther."
War Eagle quarterback Souther finished the game with 10 rushes for 144 yards.
The Indians tested their opponents’ mental toughness even more in the second quarter with the score knotted at 7 and Lumpkin County facing a third down and long. Cameron Jackson took a handoff 38 yards to set up one of Ben Ayres’ two field goals in the second quarter, this one from 13-yards out.
Chestatee started its subsequent drive on the 20-yard line after Ayres’ kick went into the end zone. Six plays into the drive, Souther threw an interception to Indians’ defensive back Chad Fulton, who returned the turnover 51 yards to his team’s 22-yard line.
The post-turnover drive resulted in a second field goal by Ayres, this one from 42 yards out.
With resiliency as its new motto, Chestatee scored on the following possession via a 6-yard run by Sweet. The touchdown was set up by first-down runs of 13 yards by Ben Souther and 37 yards and 15 yards by Sweet.
"Jo Jo (Sweet) and Ethan (Souther) had a great night, but our defense really shined," Luttrell said.
With their offense finally clicking, it was time for the War Eagles defense to get a stop and send their team into halftime with the lead.
And they did.
Chestatee’s defense blocked a 42-yard field goal attempt by Ayres to go into halftime up by one point.
Mental toughness would be the story of the second half for the War Eagles as well when they fumbled the ball on their first possession of the half and the Indians recovered.
The defense stopped the Indians on their ensuing possession on a fourth down conversion attempt to give the ball back to the offense, an offense that made no more mistakes the remainder of the game.
Sweet scored on a 32-yard run on Chestatee’s next drive and the game looked well-in-hand for the War Eagles, especially after the War Eagles’ third drive of the half ended in a 27-yard field goal by junior kicker Zach Mills. The field goal was set up by a Ben Souther 50-yard run on a third-and-32.
Then came the last minutes of the fourth quarter.
If ever there was a time for Chestatee’s new-found mental toughness needed to shine through, it was in the last minutes of the fourth quarter.
With the score 24-13, and 2 minutes left, Lumpkin County scored on a 17-yard run by Cameron Jackson. The two-point conversion failed thanks to Phillips’ well-placed arm.
"As was the case most of the night, our defense came up big for us," Luttrell said. "We face a great team next week and I hope this game got us a little prepared."
"We know we have to play mistake-free football," Sweet said.