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ELCA grabs top seed in Class A playoffs

Eagle’s Landing Christian coach Jonathan Gess says his team is excited about the start of next week’s Class A private-school playoffs, where his team is the top seed. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)

Eagle’s Landing Christian coach Jonathan Gess says his team is excited about the start of next week’s Class A private-school playoffs, where his team is the top seed. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)

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Senior quarterback Dalton Etheridge has been a big reason why Eagle’s Landing Christian is the top seed in next week’s Class A private-school playoffs. (Jeff Hurndon Photography)

MCDONOUGH — Eagle’s Landing Christian is back in a familiar spot heading into the Class A private-school playoffs next week.

The defending champions secured the No. 1 seed for the postseason based on the Georgia High School Association’s power ratings system. As a region champion, the Chargers were guaranteed a high seed.

As the playoff’s top seed, ELCA will host all of its playoff games until the state title game, which will be played at the Georgia Dome next month. In the public school playoffs, Seminole County clinched the No. 1 seed in their playoffs.

“We are really excited and ready for the playoffs to begin,” ELCA coach Jonathan Gess said. “With the week off this week, we are continuing to work on correcting our mistakes and getting back into the grove of playing.”

Next week, the Chargers will host Athens Christian in the first round game at Commitment Field in McDonough. This is the second straight season that Athens Christian (5-5) has made the GHSA playoffs. Prior to last season, the program hadn’t made the playoffs since the 1996 season when it was a member of the Georgia Independent School Association.

Athens Christian clinched the last playoff spot with a 21-3 win over rival Athens Academy in last week’s season final for both teams. Included in the Eagles’ win total this season were a pair of wins over Class AAA schools Jackson County and Banks County, which finished the season with a combined 4-16 record.

ELCA (9-0) comes into the 16-team playoff on a 23-game winning streak, which dates back to last season.

“They’re a talented and gifted football team,” Athens Christian coach Steve Brooks told the Athens Banner newspaper earlier this week. “They’re well-coached. It will be a challenge for us.”

The winner advances to the quarterfinals round when they would meet the winner of the Darlington and Christian Heritage winner.

“It is good to have your games at home, but at the end of the day your have to be prepared to play,” Gess said. “I really don’t think it makes a big difference if you are at home. You still have to go out and play. At this point, every team that makes the playoff is good.”

This will be the fifth time that the two teams have met, with ELCA winning the previous four. Athens Christian is 90-90-2 all-time on the road. Last season, the Eagles lost 28-7 to Walker in the first round of the playoffs on the road.

The Chargers are 10-1 at home in playoff games under Gess.

Landmark Christian is the only common opponent the teams have played this season. Athens Christian lost 27-6 to Landmark at the beginning of the season while ELCA defeated the War Eagles 35-0 to clinch the Region 5-A championship last week in Fairburn.

With the graduation of several talented players from last season’s championship team, Gess said his team has slightly overachieved this year.

“Maybe by other people’s expectations, we did what we were supposed to do,” Gess said. “I didn’t expect us to dominate the way we did with all the players we lost. We had a good nucleus coming back, and our seniors did a good job of leading this team. We got better each week. We were able to have a good season without any superstar players.”