Jeff Hurndon Photography / ELCA’s defense held defending state champion Savannah Christian’s option offense to under 100 yards, but the Chargers will have their hands full with George Walton Academy running back Stanley Williams.
George Walton Academy at No. 1 ELCA
When, where: Tonight, 7:30 p.m., Commitment Field in McDonough.
Records, seedings: George Walton is 9-3 and the No. 11 overall seed; ELCA is 11-1 and No. 2 overall seed.
Last meeting: ELCA won 35-21 in 2010.
What to know: George Walton won four state titles in the Georgia Independent School Association, most recently in 2009. George Walton joined the GHSA the next season and lost to ELCA in the second round of the playoffs. While Bulldogs running back and Georgia commit Stanley Williams gets the attention, quarterback Hunter Rice has accounted for 994 yards of offense and nine touchdowns (seven passing, two rushing) with just one interception. Chargers star Keyante Green said his injured ankle, which kept him out of last week’s victory against Savannah Christian, “feels a whole lot better. It hurts a little bit, but I’m going to be be able to play offense and defense.”
What's next: Winner plays the Prince Avenue Christian-Landmark Christian winner in the Class A private school championship.
McDONOUGH — Having already dispatched one familiar opponent from the playoffs, Eagle’s Landing Christian now faces another familiar one from postseasons past.
The No. 1-ranked Chargers (11-1) face George Walton Academy (9-3) in the Class A private school semifinals at 7:30 p.m., and the Bulldogs bring along the same defining characteristics they did in 2010 when ELCA sent them home with a 35-21 loss in the second round of the playoffs — a punishing rushing offense, large offensive linemen and plenty of confidence.
“I started in that game and I feel like it’s a very similar team,” ELCA senior defensive back D.J. Curl said. “They’re really physical, really big on the front line.”
But George Walton also brings along one defining characteristic it didn’t have then — Stanley Williams.
The junior running back is 5-foot-8, 185 pounds, runs the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds and committed to the University of Georgia before his sophomore season at Apalachee. Williams transferred to George Walton this season and has rushed for 1,796 yards and 22 touchdowns on 182 carries.
And he’s has been at his best in the playoffs. In victories against Aquinas (38-12) and Walker (37-7), Williams has rushed for 448 yards and six touchdowns, topping the 200-yard mark both times.
Making George Walton a little different this time around.
“I think he’s probably the first complete back that we’ve had to face,” ELCA head coach Jonathan Gess said. “We’ve seen real fast guys at the running back position and we’ve seen a strong back. This kid is both.”
“He’s probably the best running back we’ve faced all year and will face,” Curl said.
If Williams is the best running back ELCA has faced, George Walton’s offensive line may hold the same distinction. Behind linemen Matthew Chick (6-5, 210), Aaron Schwartz (6-7, 250) and Chad Howell (6-2, 330) and tight end Geno Bailey (6-4, 230), the Bulldogs average 263 rushing yards a game.
George Walton doesn’t often plod its way to 260-some rushing yards. Twice Williams busted touchdown runs of at least 60 yards on the first play from scrimmage against Walker.
That’s the kind of explosiveness that has Gess worried.
“He’s going to be a handful,” Gess said. “You don’t go into a game thinking we’re going to shut him down. You want to contain him. You don’t want him to go crazy. You want to make sure those 7- or 8-yard gains don’t turn into 50-yard gains.”
But the motivating factors are in place for ELCA.
Last week’s 42-7 victory over Savannah Christian, the defending Class A champions, gave the Chargers a jolt of confidence. In the absence of star running back and linebacker Keyante Green, who didn’t play because of an injury, ELCA quarterback Dalton Etheridge accounted for 250 yards of offense and four touchdowns and the defense held Savannah Christian to under 100 yards of offense.
“To beat the defending state champs really boosted our confidence,” Green said. “It feels like we can beat anybody in Class A.”
And, of course, there’s last season, when ELCA reached the semifinals as the No. 2-ranked team and lost to Landmark Christian.
“It’s certainly in everybody’s mind,” Curl said. “You can’t help but think about it.”
Yet, Williams and George Walton have already given ELCA plenty to think about.
“We can’t take them lightly,” Green said.