Jeff Hurndon Photography
Eagle’s Landing Christian running back Keyante Green looks for an opening against the Briarwood Christian defense Friday in the Chargers’ 21-18 loss to the visitors from Alabama.
Eagle’s Landing Christian found out how hard it is to battle against a team with superior numbers Friday. Especially when those additional players aren’t slouches.
Briarwood Christian, 96 players strong, rallied in the second half to overcome the 70-deep Chargers. Ben Craft scored on a 1-yard plunge with 1:32 left and the Lions ended the Chargers’ 18-game regular-season winning streak with a 21-18 victory in the season opener.
“It was numbers,” ELCA coach Jonathan Gess said. “Keyante Green cramps up. It was 96 degrees out there and he was running over guys in the first and second quarters, but we use him both ways and you get tired.”
WInning coach Fred Yancey acknowledged as much.
“That was probably the difference in the game,” Yancey said. “Our players played hard, their players played hard, but we just had more of them. I told the kids yesterday that these guys could easily be ahead of you at halftime, but that they’d be tested. And that’s the way it worked out.”
The Chargers ate up the first 7 1/2 minutes before scoring on John Tatum’s 15-yard run. The extra-point try bounced off the upright and ELCA led 6-0.
ELCA doubled the lead early in the second quarter, when Keyante Green busted loose on the left side and ran 25 yards to the end zone. The Chargers elected to go for two, but Green was stifled short of the goal.
The Lions began their comeback late in the second quarter as the heat started getting to the Chargers. Green went out with cramps, followed not long after by Josh Shockley. D.J. Curl would soon cramp up as well.
Craft threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to Michael Lathem on a fourth-and-4 play with 3:07 to play in the half. Benson Mulvaney’s extra point made it 12-7.
It looked like it would stay that way until halftime, but the Chargers came up with a big third-and-10 play from their own 20. Aaron Spratlin connected with Scott Barlow on a 37-yard pass play and the Chargers found themselves at Briarwood’s 43 with 1:59 left in the half.
Spratlin gained 10 yards on a keeper on a subsequent second-and-1 at the 11 and Tatum punched it in from the 1 on the next play with 8.3 seconds remaining. The Chargers again could not convert on the two-point try and settled for an 18-7 lead at the break.
Somebody flipped a switch at halftime. All the offense that ELCA found so easy to come by in the first half disappeared. Meanwhile, the Lions crept back into the game.
Craft connected with Matthew Furuto on a 25-yard touchdown pass with 5:57 left in the third. The Lions at first lined up for a two-point conversion, but when they were flagged for illegal procedure on the attempt and pushed back, they opted instead for Mulvaney’s extra point. That made it 18-14.
The momentum continued to shift. The Chargers went three and out on the next series, punctuating it with a punt that shot straight up and went out of bounds only 19 yards later. Three plays later, it appeared that Craft had found Daniel Robert for a 29-yard touchdown pass, only to see it negated by a block-in-the-back penalty.
That drive ultimately died on a fourth-and-8 play at ELCA’s 23, and for a while the Chargers held firm.
But Briarwood Christian’s advantage in numbers continued to wear down the Chargers.
ELCA took possession of the ball with 8:04 to play and navigated an eight-play drive. The eighth play, Green attempting to convert on fourth-and-1 at his own 39 met with a wall of Briarwood defenders who denied him. The Lions took over on downs and launched the winning drive.
Six plays later, Craft dived in from the 1 and the Lions led for the first time. ELCA tried to pass its way down the field, but a Spratlin pass deflected off one of his receiver’s hands and into the hands of a diving Roy Gilbert with 30 seconds left. That sealed it.
But it didn’t cancel out how “awesome proud” Gess was of his team’s fight.
“A lot of teams won’t schedule that kind of game,” he said. “Most people thought I was crazy or stupid for doing that. But now we’ve got to go back to work.