By Derrick Mahone
With a schedule of two higher classification teams and a Florida powerhouse to open the season, it wouldn't have been a surprise if the Eagle's Landing Christian Academy was heading into their bye week with an 0-3 record.
But it has been quite the opposite for the seventh-ranked Chargers are unbeaten after three games after a 28-14 home victory over Manchester in a non-region game Friday night.
ELCA will take next week off as they heal some injuries and prepare to open its Region 5-A South schedule against First Presbyterian Day, a first-year Georgia High School Association school.
"It says a lot about your team win you can beat a Double-A program like Manchester," ELCA coach Jonathan Gess said. "We played three very good programs and some people thought we would be 0-3 at this point. Our guys have worked hard each week to get better."
Despite missing starting running back Keyante Green, who is still nursing an injury, and Avery Walls playing limited offensive duty, the Chargers offense seemto be clicking. ELCA only punted once and scored on four of its eight possessions. Besides the punt, ELCA had a drive to end with a fumble, clock expiring before half and end of the game.
The Chargers amassed 328 yards of offense, 220 on the ground against Manchester, a Class AA school. John Tatum was the workhorse in the running game with 127 yards on 21 carries and three touchdowns. He had scoring runs of 1, 7 and 1 yards to led the offense.
"We went through a lot of reps this week," Tatum said. "If we made a mistake, we had to do it over again. You have to give the offensive line a lot of credit. The entire team played well for us to get to this point."
Aside from two big first-half offensive plays, ELCA defense was able to hold the Blue Devils to only 138 yards of offense. Manchester got both its scores on pass plays.
The Blue Devils started the game running some offensive sets they hadn't shown on field, but ELCA was able to make some halftime adjustments. ELCA limited the Blue Devils to only 13 yards of offense in the second half.
"We played well defensively," Gess said. "At halftime, Coach Gess put their offense up on the board, and we talked about what we needed to do," ELCA defensive back Will Dellinger said. "He gave us what we needed to do to shut them down."
ELCA jumped to a 14-0 first quarter lead with Tatum scoring on a 1-yard run and Christian Reeves catching a 20-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Spratlin.
The Blue Devils (1-1) would tie the game on a 13-yard touchdown reception from D.J. Lowe with 5:27 remaining in the second quarter. Manchester's first touchdown came on a 20-yard touchdown reception by Dre Dixon in the first quarter.
"Defensively, we had to make an adjustment," Gess said. "It is a great win, and we go into the bye week on a good note."
Despite the win over Class AAA Henry County, Class AA Manchester, and Florida Class A powerhouse North Florida Christian, the players say they can't get over confidence heading into their region schedule.
"We have proved that we are a team on the move," Dellinger said. "You have still stay humble. If you get too cocky, God has a way of humbling you if you need that to happen. Winning this game is good for a confidence boost. We have to keep on getting strong."