By Brian Paglia
With 9:42 left in the game and a touchdown deficit, Henry County quarterback Chris Moody spun to avoid Eagle's Landing Christian linebacker Tanner Rogers, but he was trapped. By the time Moody got a look down field, Chargers linebacker Cole Carrera had him wrapped up and collapsing to the ground. It was the second consecutive sack by ELCA, it's fourth overall and a sign the Chargers had worn down Henry County's offensive line.
ELCA then ran six minutes off the clock and got one last defensive stop to clinch a 13-6 victory over host Henry County in a non-region game Friday night, giving the Chargers their first win against the Warhawks in school history.
"It's a huge statement for our program and where it's going," ELCA coach Jonathan Gess said. "We scheduled Henry County three years ago just hoping one day we could rise to the challenge and beat them. And we did.
"They're a Class AAA school, and we could be a Class A powerhouse all day long and that's going to be a tough game."
It was a tough game for ELCA in the past. Three years ago, in the schools' first meeting, Henry County declared its superiority with a 39-12 victory.
But that was at the zenith of Henry County's recent surge in success, with Division I talent in quarterback Drew Little (Georgia State) and wide receivers Jamal Patterson (Stanford) and Markeith Ambles (Southern California). On Friday, ELCA exposed the Warhawks' new triple-option offense as very much a work in progress.
The Chargers (2-0) held Henry County (0-2) to just 92 yards of total offense. ELCA sacked Henry County quarterback Chris Moody four times, twice by Chargers linebacker Cody Rush. Jonathan Jean-Bart led Henry County in rushing with just 19 yards on six carries.
"We played a little sloppy," Rush said, "but for the most part we did pretty good."
"Offense brings in the fans, but defense wins championships," ELCA defensive coordaintor Dan Curl said. "I was real proud. With four turnovers and only giving up six points, it's awesome."
Indeed, ELCA, the No .8-ranked team in Class A, didn't display the potent offense that averaged over 40 points a game last season. Aaron Spratlin finished 4 of 8 passing for 51 yards, connecting with Christian Reeves three times for 39 yards, but twice he was intercepted by Warhawks defensive back Stephon Brown. The Chargers' first possession ended with a fumble by John Tatum, one of four turnovers committed by ELCA.
Much of ELCA's difficulties on offense could be explained by an injury to sophomore Keyante Green, who's been relegated to returning kicks and playing linebacker. Green had just 10 yards on four carries.
But others stepped up in his place. Reeves carried six times for 29 yards. Defensive back Avery Walls had nine carries for 63 yards and scored on a 13-yard touchdown in the second quarter to put ELCA up 7-0. Tatum had 54 yards on 14 carries and scored the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, bulldozing through the offensive line from the 1-yard line.
For two years, Henry County's superiority over ELCA wasn't in doubt. This year, ELCA changed that.
"Overall, they're a fine football team," Henry County coach Mike Rozier said. "They've got a lot of weapons. They've got a lot of hype, and deserving."