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Posted: Wednesday, November 13th 2013 at 2:21pm

War Eagles still looking for ultimate playoff moment

By Jeff Hart Staff
EMAIL STORY CONTACT EDITOR PRINT
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A Chestatee ball-carrier stretches for extra yards in game earlier this season. / photo: Robert Hernandez
GRADY at CHESTATEE
-- WHAT: Class AAAA football playoffs, first round
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: Gainesville, War Eagle Stadium
-- RADIO: 102.9 FM
-- GRADY (8-2, No. 3 seed Region 6-AAAA): Defeated Lithonia 25-22 last week.
-- CHESTATEE (8-2, No. 2 seed Region 8-AAAA): Defeated Madison County 42-0 last week.
-- WINNER PLAYS: Sandy Creek vs. Cedartown winner in second round
GAINESVILLE -- Chestatee football coach Stan Luttrell talked mostly about 'the moment'.

“We’re not going to be surprised by it, we’re going to take the moment for ourselves,” he said. “This is what we’ve been building for and waiting for.”

'The moment,' of course, being the War Eagles’ shot at a first-ever state playoff win and setting a new benchmark for wins in a season when they play host to Grady Friday night in the first round of the Class AAAA playoffs.

Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. and will be broadcast live on WDUN 102.9 FM. The War Eagles (8-2) are the No. 2 seed from Region 8-AAAA, while the Knights (8-2) are the No. 3 seed from Region 6-AAAA.

The War Eagles have never won nine games in a season and are 0-3 all-time in the playoffs with first round losses in 2005, 2006, and 2012. They won eight games last year before falling to LaGrange at home in the playoffs.

Admittedly, the eighth-year head coach seemed more focused on getting his team ready for its biggest game of the season rather than worrying about possible records as they prepared for just their fourth-ever playoff appearance. But even the usually stoic Luttrell paused to consider what the implications could be if they could notch that ever-elusive first playoff win.

“There’s no doubt it would be huge for the program and the community,” he said. “It’s the goal we set every year. We’d be very excited.”

Then, he broke into his best Crash Davis impersonation.

“But really it’s just the next game. We would enjoy the moment for a few minutes but then it would be time to move on,” he said. “You can’t sit around and pat yourself on the back too long or you’re not going to be ready for the next moment.”

Chestatee already has provided some memorable moments in 2013. They converted a two-point conversion in the final moments to beat West Hall 15-14. They rallied to beat Lanier in a virtual battle for second place and a home playoff game with a blocked punt for a touchdown to send the game to overtime and then winning 20-17 in double overtime. They also set a school record last week notching their third shutout on defense in a season with a 42-0 thumping of Madison County.

Luttrell is hoping they can keep adding to what has been an unexpectedly pleasant season to this point. They lost star running back A.J. Sijiye before the season began and were breaking in a new quarterback in senior Wyatt Burgess.

Expectations before the season-opener against North Hall were tempered and then a 33-14 mistake-filled loss to the Trojans got things off to a negative start.

"Losing A.J. was big and then we lost to North Hall and I think there was a little apprehension," he said. "But there was never any real panic or anything like that. The coaches and the kids just went to work and we tried to make things work."

But the the defense, led by eight returning seniors, has given the War Eagles plenty of optimism heading into the playoffs. In years past, the defense was typically out-gunned by speed and offensive playmakers from more athletic teams. Not so in 2013.

After North Hall came the come-from-behind win over West Hall followed by a convincing win over Eastside in their region opener. The defense would then pitch two shutouts and allow just seven total points in a three-game span to get things rolling.

Linemen Khalil Cantrell, Rob Minor, and Cody Humphries, linebackers Zach Boerger and William Fayson, and secondary standouts Tyree Robertson, Blake Buffington, and Justin Spears have helped Chestatee allow a school-record for fewest points in a season (136).

“The defense has been solid all year,” Luttrell said. “We have some guys that may not look it but who are very athletic. The coaches have done a great job of getting them in the right spots and they have made some huge plays.

“What I like best about this group is that they play with a lot of heart and effort. They understand their roles and they’re a lot tougher than people think.”

Fayson leads the team with 114 tackles and has two interceptions on the season. He also has two blocked punts on the season and returned another blocked punt for a touchdown in a critical win over Lanier. The line of Humphries (8.5), Cantrell (4), and Minor (2.5) have combined for 15 sacks and 27 total tackles for losses. Junior linebacker Kris Pierce has three sacks and eight TFL. Buffington leads the team in interceptions with four.

Grady will be another fast, athletic team for the War Eagles to try and slow down. The Knights are averaging 29.6 points a game. But, in their two losses they have scored just 13 total points.

Grady also is no stranger to the playoffs. The Knights lost to Monroe Area 21-20 in overtime last year in the second round. They advanced to the quarterfinals in 2010 and to the second round in 2009, where they lost to Flowery Branch.

“They are well-coached and have a lot of tradition,” Luttrell said. “They know how to win in the playoffs. It’s going to be a big challenge for us but I feel our guys are up to it.

“The key I think will be our defense. We’ll need to play great defense to win. If we can keep from giving up the big play on defense, and we don’t turn the ball over on offense, we have a great chance to win the game.”

A win, of course, would be the ultimate moment for Luttrell and the War Eagles. One that has been a long time in the making.

"If we get it, I'll be excited for the program and the kids. They will have earned it," Luttrell said. "But we're not going to breathe any sigh of relief or anything. We want to build a tradition here. That's what we really want. Not just one moment, but a lot of moments."
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