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ELCA one step closer to championship goal

Jeff Hurndon Photography
Eagle's Landing Christian quarterback Dalton Etheridge accounted for 251 yards of offense in the top-ranked Chargers win over defending Class A champion Savannah Christian in the quarterfinals of the playoffs.

Jeff Hurndon Photography Eagle's Landing Christian quarterback Dalton Etheridge accounted for 251 yards of offense in the top-ranked Chargers win over defending Class A champion Savannah Christian in the quarterfinals of the playoffs.

McDONOUGH — Eagle’s Landing Christian faced the kind of championship-level opposition that it hadn’t faced all season Friday. But the result was similar to the type of domination the Chargers have dished out to lesser opponents all year.

Chargers quarterback Dalton Etheridge rolled up 251 all-purpose yards and had a hand in four ELCA touchdowns as the top-ranked team in private school Class A defeated the defending state champion Savannah Christian Raiders 42-7. The Chargers will move on to play unranked George Walton, which routed Walker 37-7, in next week’s semifinal round.

The Chargers did it primarily without their starting running back and Purdue commitment, Keyante Green. On his fifth play, Green aggravated a leg injury he suffered last week and did not return. But running back Lane Timpson stepped up big in his place, rushing for 56 yards and a touchdown on nine carries.

ELCA coach Jonathan Gess also praised junior linebacker Alex Jerreat for turning in a big performance defensively in relief of Green.

“Keyante was hurt last week and we tried to let him go a bit tonight, but we’ve got to get him healthy. But Alex and Lane, those guys stepped up big time,” Gess said.

Gess called it a big win for his program but not one that should go to the Chargers’ heads.

“They already know,” Gess said. “Last year, we won big to get to the semifinals and they let it get to their heads. They have to know no game is more important than the next game. But I’m proud of how our boys got out and executed tonight.”

The Raiders came into the game, not only as defending champions, but as two-time runners-up before that. The ELCA win, however, will halt Savannah Christian’s consecutive championship-game appearance streak at three while propelling the Chargers into the state semifinals for the second year in a row.

Etheridge scored his first touchdown on the ground when he weaved his way through Savannah Christian’s defense, 37 yards and into the end zone. ELCA would score touchdowns on its next two drives as well — on an 18-yard toss to Davis Carandi and Etheridge’s 10-yard scramble — to take a 20-0 advantage at halftime.

It didn’t get much better for the Raiders in the third quarter as Etheridge found D.J. Curl for a 37-yard pickup on the first play. Etheridge scored four plays later on a 1-yard plunge to stretch the lead to 27-0.

Etheridge finished an efficient 15 of 20 passing with for 177 yards and two scoring tosses. He added 74 yards on seven carries with his two rushing touchdowns to give ELCA a balanced attack in the absence of its star tailback.

“Dalton was just unbelievable tonight,” Gess said. “I truly believe that every championship team has to have a kid like that, who’s just out there making plays. We knew Savannah would do all they could to stop the run and make him beat them with his arm, and he did it.”

The ELCA defense was especially salty as well, holding the Raiders’ option offense to less than 100 total yards while forcing two turnovers.

But as Gess addressed his team after the game, it was obvious that shadows of last season still danced in the Chargers’ heads. ELCA rode high into the semifinals last season after beating Seminole County in similar fashion, 51-7, only to get upended by Landmark Christian in the semis 14-7.

The Chargers (11-1) were reminded one last time by Gess of the urgency to handle success well.

“Enjoy this one tonight, fellas,” Gess said. “But when you wake up tomorrow morning, you’d better start thinking about George Walton.”