PAGLIA: One big step for Henry County

Brian Paglia, bpaglia@henryherald.com

Brian Paglia, bpaglia@henryherald.com

ATLANTA — Funny how the last three years, Eagle’s Landing Christian football was sweating bullets in the last seconds of their last game of the season.

In a mind-numbing loss to Landmark Christian in the semifinals last season.

In a heart-breaking defeat to Clinch County in the quarterfinals the year before.

In a gut-wrenching setback to Lincoln County in the second round three seasons ago.

“It was like you got the breath knocked out of you,” ELCA senior D.J. Curl said.

Now you can breathe again Chargers.

After so many heart-stopping and disappointing finishes to ELCA seasons past, it was only fitting that the Chargers cruised to Friday’s 33-0 victory over Prince Avenue Christian in the Class A private school championship game.

“People don’t know, it’s hard,” Chargers coach Jonathan Gess said. “I don’t care how talented your team is. It’s hard to keep coming after it.”

Yes, it’s been a long, long road for Henry County high school football to reach this moment — to have young men from all parts of the county on stage holding the championship trophy, lifting it in the direction of a crowd full of folks from just south of Atlanta who’ve spent 48 minutes testing the limits of their vocal chords.

Who in this county in 1982 could’ve imagined this day? That season, Henry County and Stockbridge, the county’s only high schools at the time, were a combined 0-20.

“We’re bringing it back to Henry County,” Curl said. “As seniors, we hope we’ve started a dynasty. And we can say we started that we were the first class to do that.”

Indeed, it was clear this time was coming eventually. ELCA’s momentum had been building the past four seasons ever since this group of seniors with Curl, Keyante Green, Isaac Rochell, Tyler Petty, Jake Martin and others arrived and played immediately.

It was clear something was brewing when ELCA went face-to-face with Class A powerhouse Lincoln County in 2009 and lost 47-39 in the second round behind an absurd game by Green.

It was clear a contender was emerging when the Chargers ran off 12 straight wins and climbed to No. 2 in the state rankings only to fall one possession short against No. 1 Clinch County in a 34-27 defeat in the quarterfinals in 2010.

It was clear ELCA would come back hungrier than ever after falling a game short of the state finals in a 14-7 loss to Landmark Christian last season.

There was only one more step ELCA could take.

Friday, they took it.

And maybe in a way a whole county did, too.

“It’s all about the community, the fans,” ELCA senior Marquis Griffin said. “Everybody is just one big family. To bring a state championship back to them means a lot.”

Brian Paglia covers sports for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald newspapers. He can be reached at bpaglia@henryherald.com. On Twitter? Follow him @BrianPaglia.