Jeff Hurndon Photography / ELCA players wait to enter the Georgia Dome before their Class A private school championship game against Prince Avenue Christian.
ATLANTA — The score was important.
But so was the big screen hanging above each endzone at the Georgia Dome that Eagle’s Landing Christian players monitored for cameras sightings and instant replays.
So was the debate between two players on the question — do passports expire after four years?
So was deciding what to do with a conspicuous box in the Chargers’ locker room marked CHAMPIONSHIP GEAR as they arrived after a 33-0 victory over Prince Avenue Christian in the Class A private school championship game at the Georgia Dome on Friday.
The experience of playing in the Georgia Dome after a season’s worth of high school stadiums seemed to infuse ELCA’s sideline with a unique buzz.
Certainly, there were more distractions.
There was the sound a vuvuzela coming from the first row of the stands. Morgan Alexander knew who it was immediately. He nudged senior Patrick Busscher who stood next to him.
“That’s your big poppa,” Alexander said.
There was the big screen, a High Definition video screen installed in 2009. Players watched it for replays of big moments like touchdown runs or Bryson Durden’s punishing tackle in the fourth quarter. Spirited text messages sent by spectators were displayed every quarter. Camera sightings were plentiful.
But even with all the opportunities to relish a new, once-in-a-lifetime experience, there was still business to take care of.
At halftime, the Chargers’ locker room was a scene of chaos.
Wide receiver Davis Carrandi walked around asking anybody and nobody for a towel. Isaac Rochell’s knee bounced nervously as he watched Chargers defensive coordinator Derek Chastain frantically scribble defensive adjustments on a white board.
Jonathan Gess pleaded with his offensive line to come clean about who was letting Prince Avenue nose guard Sam Kennon penetrate the backfield and disrupt ELCA’s offense. Beau Beasley eventually fessed up and Gess made the adjustment.
One assistant coach approached Gess to tell him D.J. Curl was wide open on a previous play. Another assistant corralled Gess to the whiteboard to talk strategy.
Andreus Hosley needed more tape. So did Curl.
But in the midst of the cacophony of coaches and players and helmets and strategy, Gess delivered the message ELCA needed to break open a 7-0 game at halftime and win the school’s first Georgia High School Athletic Association state championship.
“You’ve been preparing for this all year,” Gess said. “We just keep chopping wood, chopping wood, chopping wood. Make them earn every single yard.
“This is where big-time players make big-time plays.
“Let’s finish what we started.”
And they did.