By Derrick Mahone
All Eagle's Landing Christian needed was a yard. It was fourth-and-one from the George Walton Academy's 27-yard line with 1:40 remaining in the contest. A first down would essentially be enough for the Chargers to run out the clock and escape with a seven-point victory in the second round of the Class A playoffs.
ELCA coach Jonathan Gess wanted the play to go up the middle for the yardage. Junior running back John Tatum would get the call.
"I just wanted to get that one yard," he said afterwards.
Tatum got a lot more. He burst up the middle, breaking one tackle and racing 27 yards to the end zone to cap the Chargers' 35-21 win over GWA to advance to the quarterfinals.
"That was amazing," ELCA quarterback Aaron Spratlin said. "John is a beast, and everyone knows it. He just always keeps his legs moving and running hard. He bust it wide open."
Tatum finished the night with 112 yards on 24 carries and a touchdown. ELCA amassed a pretty balance offensive attack with 394 total yards, 219 coming on the ground.
"John showed a lot of determination," senior wide receiver Christian Reeves said. "I was just hoping for the first down. He was running with some power and determination and took it to the house. We just said we were going to shove it down their throats with some power."
While the Chargers, who improved to 12-0, were having a lot of success running the ball on the outside against GWA, Gess was thinking more smash-mouth than finesse.
The play "13-2", was successful as the season continues.
"It was a real simple call in my book," Gess said. "If you can stop it you deserve to win the game, but we don't think you can stop it. If we ever have to do it again, we will do it again. J.T. torn it up. It was awesome. Great play."
Tied at 21-21 in the fourth quarter, the Chargers scored 14 unanswered points for the win. It is the first time since joining the Georgia High School Association that ELCA has advanced past the second round.
The team will face powerhouse Clinch County next week in the quarterfinals. ELCA and Clinch County coaches will meet Saturday morning in Cordele to exchange film, but more importantly have a coin flip to see who gets to host the game.
Since both teams are No. 1 seeds from their region, the GHSA requires a coin flip if both schools meet the required stadium seating capacity.
"Getting that second round monkey off our back was awesome," Gess said. "This was an ugly one, but we got it off our back."
Sophomore Keyante Green, who finished with 115 yards rushing, scored his second touchdown of the contest to give ELCA a 28-21 lead with 8:05 remaining. The teams would exchanged punts before Tatum broke free on his 27-yard scoring run.
"We haven't face that much adversity all year, but we know how to deal with adversity," said Spratlin, who was 10 of 23 for 175 yards with two first half interceptions.
"This team had some battlers and fighters," said Reeves, who had five receptions for 137 yards. "We were able to step up our game and dig deep inside to pull through."
GWA, which is playing its first season in the GHSA, had 284 yards of offense. The Bulldogs (10-2) tied the game three times, but was never able to take the lead. It was only the second time this season that the Chargers had been pushed.
"We knew it would be a tough game," Gess said. "What we preach all year long is keep working and keep pounding. Our guys were able to pull away in the second half, and that was awesome."
GWA coach Don Williams called it a successful season since making the move from the Georgia Independent School Association where it won the Class AAA title last season. This was only the second time in 16 meetings between the two schools that ELCA has won.
"We thought we had a chance to win, and we did," Williams said. "We played all year and believed all year that we had a good football team."