The White County High football team totaled 513 yards of offense — including 359 on the ground — and its defense delivered as well in a 56-27, Region 7-4A win over Chestatee High on Friday in a game with huge playoff implications.
The Warriors (6-2, 1-1 region) clinched their first playoff berth in three years.
The Warriors entered this critical region contest with enthusiasm and moxie. They recovered an onside kick to start the game and, from there, wowed on offense through the air and on the ground.
“Our guys really fought hard, and played hard tonight. It’s a great win for our school,” said first-year White County coach Tim Cokely. “Our fans are really excited.”
Senior running back Kaleb Crane delivered for the Warriors with 209 yards and four scores on 34 carries. Fellow senior back Bailey Anderson (158 yards, two touchdowns) had the longest play of the night with an electrifying 88-yard run that saw him breaking free up the middle and winning a footrace to the end zone for the Warriors’ final score with about two minutes left to play.
Freshman quarterback J. Ben Haynes (13 of 22 passing) impressed with his poise and vision, finding plenty of openings against a Chestatee (4-5, 0-3) defense committed to slow the run inside the box. He threw for 245 yards and a pair of first-half touchdowns, his first on the opening drive to put White County ahead.
On defense, White County also recorded four takeaways and held 2,000-yard career rusher and Elite 11 back Nick Lyles to subpar numbers. Lyles, who entered the contest 42 yards shy of 1,000 for the season, was swarmed for much of the night and held to a season-low 29 yards.
Lyles also played more than 100 snaps and was helped off the field late in the fourth quarter due to cramping.
“Our defense played better than the score indicated,” Cokely said. “We had them stopped there in the second half. ... Overall, it was just a really great night.”
The Warriors, though, were a little too amped, Cokely said. Things got chippy in many moments throughout the contest, and the Warriors were penalized for a plethora of late hits and personal fouls, including a targeting infraction on the quarterback late in the game that resulted in a Chestatee player being tossed from the game.
”I was hoping we could calm down, and I don’t think we did until about halftime. ... By then we kind of set the tone,” Cokely said. “ ... To me, all week we could tell we were kind of amped up. I know there was some sloppiness out there but, overall, really proud of our team.”
Self-inflicted wounds prevented Chestatee from having any chance of coming back. Injuries also forced coach Shaun Conley to shuffle some players around.
Freshman quarterback Christian Charles, despite throwing for three touchdowns — two to fellow passer/receiver Storm Yarbrough — was picked off three times. The War Eagles also fumbled twice and turned the ball over on downs on three possessions, twice deep inside White County territory during the first half.
Conley, while commending the efforts of Yarbrough, Lyles and his freshman quarterback, acknowledged the War Eagles couldn’t take care of business. The loss officially eliminated Chestatee from playoff contention.
“They outplayed us tonight,” Conley said. “We didn’t do the things we could control — take care of the ball, stuff like that. Too many mistakes. First half, all of our woes, I guess, or whatever you can call them, were just self-inflicted.”
Chestatee closes out its regular season at sixth-ranked Marist. With two games left on its docket, White County returns to Cleveland to host West Hall High. Both games will be a 7:30 p.m. kickoff next Friday.