By Doug Gorman
The Eagle's Landing Christian Academy Chargers are moving on to the second round of the Class A state football playoffs.
They can thank their defense.
Clinging to a lead late in the fourth quarter, ELCA stopped Athens Academy on back-to-back fourth-down series to preserve the 23-18 lead.
With the victory, ELCA hits the road for the second-round game against Lincoln County next week. A year ago, ELCA lost to Lincoln County 7-0 in the second round of the playoffs.
"Our defense really won this game for us tonight, but when our offense needed to make something happen, our seniors stepped up, and I'm really excited about that," ELCA coach Jonathan Gess said.
The Chargers overcame six turnovers and a couple of lead changes to improve their record to 9-2 and keep their season going.
Despite some miscues on offense, ELCA saved some of the biggest plays of the night for the fourth quarter.
Trailing 18-17, the Chargers used a three-play, 55-yard drive to go back in front for good on John Tatum's 2-yard score with a little more than eight minutes left in the game.
It was set up when Darrien Hudson rambled 52-yards before being pushed out of bounds near the Athens Academy goal.
When ELCA wasn't turning over the ball, it got solid play out of a trio of running backs, including Keyante Green , Tatum and Hudson, and quarterback Aaron Spartan, who hooked up on some key passes, especially to Christian Reeves.
"This was a big win for us" said Green. "We knew late in the game we had to hold on to the ball. We are looking forward to next week."
Eagle's Landing Christian only led 2-0 after the first period, and found themselves trailing for the first time midway through the second quarter when Chandler Gunn booted a 39-yard field goal to give Athens Academy a 3-2 lead.
The Chargers regained the lead on the next series when they marched 59-yards to start a second-quarter shoot-out.
Green, who played nearly 48 minutes, and on both sides of the ball, only coming out of the game briefly when he was hurt, scored the Chargers' first touchdown of the game when he strolled into the end zone from the one to give ELCA an 8-3 lead early in the second quarter.
His touchdown was set up when Reeves caught a 37-yard pass from Spratlin one player earlier.
The Spartans regained the lead with 2:45 left in the first half when Timmy McPhillips raced 55 yards on touched
Both teams traded interceptions late in the second quarter, and ELCA turned the Athens Academy turnover into a touchdown when Reeves caught Spartan's' 45-yard pass with 18 seconds to go to help ELCA go up 15-11.
ELCA nearly added more points when it recovered a fumble on the ensuring kickoff.
The start of the second half turned a little bit strange when Athens Academy took the kickoff at the two. The kick returner had trouble getting hold of the football, back tracked into his own end zone and knelt down, giving ELCA an automatic safety and a 17-11 lead.
Athens Academy was not done.
The Spartans took one last 18-17 lead midway in the third quarter when Patrick Wellborn raced 34 yards for their final score.
Athens Academy ends its season at 7-4.
The Chargers game with Lincoln was set up when the Red Devils beat Trion.