Eagles Landing Christian Academy wins state title 33-0

by: S. Thomas Coleman\/AJC.com Updated:

ELCA players Keyante Green (1) and Isaac Rochelle (88) celebrate as they walk onto the stage for the trophy presentation.

Upsets make for great drama, great books and movies. But the stark truth is this: 99.9 percent of the time, Goliath wins.

Such was the case Friday afternoon in the Georgia Dome, as Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy (12-1) finally lived up to the championship level hype that has surrounded the program for the better part of four years. The Chargers dominated an over-matched but feisty team from Prince Avenue Christian (11-2), 33-0, to claim Georgia’s first ever Class A private school football championship.

Each year since the current group of seniors was in ninth grade, when a handful of them were starters or played significant minutes, ELCA inched closer and closer to a title. They lost in the second round as freshmen at Lincoln County, lost in the quarterfinals as sophomores to eventual champion Clinch County, and though they were favored to win it all last season, the Chargers were upset in the semifinals by rival Landmark Christian.

But this season, ELCA left no doubt.

“I think it was God’s plan,” said standout senior running back/linebacker Keyante Green. “I feel like we were meant to lose those times so that we could be focused on winning today.”

And it did take some focus early. After ELCA forced a three-and-out on PAC’s first possession, the Chargers made it look easy, marching 46 yards in just four plays, as Green stiff armed two Wolverine defenders on his way to a 23-yard touchdown run to give ELCA an early 7-0 lead.

But then PAC found a chink in the Charger armor, particularly over left tackle. The Wolverine wing-T offense, which had been averaging over 300 yards rushing, focused on traps to that side of the line and went on a 12-play drive that ate up most of the first quarter. But they were forced to punt and ELCA began another drive.

However, this time the PAC defense held on fourth-and-10 from their 22-yard line and the offense took over on downs. On their ensuing drive, it appeared as if the Wolverines were about to go three-and-out again. But head coach Mark Farriba made the gutsy call of calling for a fake punt on fourth-and-three from the PAC 27 yard line. Carl Mattox took the short snap and raced 42 yards, and an unsportsmanlike penalty on the tackle moved the ball to the ELCA 20.

But the drive stalled on the Charger 13, and ELCA began another march late in the second quarter. The Chargers moved the ball down to the PAC 9, but on first and goal a big hit by linebacker Christian Payne jarred the ball loose from Marquis Griffin, and Tyler Parrish recovered it to hold the margin at 7-0 at halftime.

“I told them to just relax,” said head coach Jonathan Gess, for whom the game was probably a bit less stressful than the previous 48 hours of his real life. He and his wife Dee welcomed their first child into the world on Wednesday.

“We were dominating the game in every area,” Gess said. “I told them to stay calm, stay focused. We’ll get the ball in the second half and we’ll go down and score.”

And that’s what they did, one play after Jevious Terry’s 30-yard return of a short second-half kickoff spotted the ball at the PAC 24, D.J. Curl sprinted into the end zone to begin the 20-point third quarter that put the game away.”

“It’s pretty surreal,” said Curl, a senior. “When we were up on that stage getting the trophy, I thought back over the prior four years. All the blood, sweat and tears. It all paid off. It was all worth it.”

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