Looking back on the 2007 season, Chestatee coach Stan Luttrell realizes that mistakes cost his team its third consecutive trip to the state playoffs.
"We felt we didn’t play as good as we could in a couple games," said Luttrell, who is entering his third year as the Chestatee coach. "That made us realize that slipping on one or two games could be the difference in making the playoffs.
"To not make the playoffs was disheartening," he added. "But it adds a little motivation coming into this year."
After winning seven games in 2007, Luttrell can point to one game, a 35-21 loss to White County, as the turning point in the War Eagles season.
"That loss to White County was critical," he said of the seven turnover affair against the Warriors. "We made a lot of mistakes."
That loss moved White County ahead of Chestatee in the subregion standings, and kept the War Eagles out of the Class AAA playoffs.
This year, with 15 returning starters including nine on offense, Chestatee has a renewed focus on cutting down those mistakes and making a return trip to the postseason.
In Region 7-AAA, no team’s offense is quite like Chestatee’s. The War Eagles run the ball, run the ball and then run the ball some more. It’s a strategy that has provided the team with success, and it’s a strategy that the team plans on sticking to.
"It’s hard to defend, especially with only two or three days to prepare for it," Luttrell said of the team’s split back option offense. "If we execute it the way it’s supposed to be ran, no one can stop us on offense but us."
This year the War Eagles plan to throw the ball more, but won’t stray far from their game plan.
"We have some weapons that we want to take advantage of," Luttrell said. "And we’re going to have to throw the ball in order to run the ball better."
That means more of a burden will be placed on senior quarterback Ethan Souther, who completed 44 percent of his passes for 708 yards during his junior year.
Souther, who also scored 10 rushing touchdowns last year, and his brother, junior running back Ben (663 yards on 82 attempts in 2007) will carry the workload for the War Eagles on offense.
Their jobs should be made easier by a senior-laden offensive line that includes five returning starters.
If Luttrell’s "limit the mistakes" mantra on offense seems simple, his key to defensive success in ’08 is even more so.
"The key to the defense is to run to the football and be great tacklers," he said. "If we do that, we feel like we can be successful against anyone."
Making tackles shouldn’t be an issue for the War Eagles defense, which is anchored by senior linebacker and University of Georgia verbal commit Chase Vasser.
Vasser is coming off a junior campaign in which he recorded an area-high 138 tackles and 12 sacks.
Assisting Vasser on defense are six returning starters, including senior safety Jonathon Cain, who Luttrell calls "the team’s fastest and strongest player."
According to Luttrell, the team just needs to get back to basics in order to be successful.
"We have to get better at executing our reads, and we have to fly around and have some fun," he said.
Lacking a strong special teams unit in 2007, the War Eagles used the summer workouts to improve in the third facet of football. And early signs point to the practice paying off.
Zach Mills returns as the primary place-kicker and punter, and a host of talented athletes will take to the field on special teams to ensure that big plays are limited.
"I expect special teams to go from a weakness to a strength this year," Luttrell said.
A strong defense will carry the War Eagles through many of their games in 2008, and the run-heavy offense will allow Chestatee to control the clock and keep opposing defenses on the field. The bitter taste of last year’s lack of a playoff appearance still lingers, and with all that talent returning from last year’s squad, it’s hard not to say that Chestatee is one of the favorites in Region 7-AAA this season.