By Craig Sager II
ELCA Chargers head coach Jonathan Gess showed the Georgia Dome what a championship team looks like by taking care of the Prince Avenue Christian Wolverines handily 33-0 to kick start championship weekend.
Prince Avenue received the opening kickoff and immediately got a taste of how dominant a defense it was up against. Wolverine running backs Carl Mattox and Bryce Huff were met in the backfield and the early three and out rewarded the Chargers with excellent field position and early momentum.
Speed man Marquis Griffin took the first down reverse handoff and followed a bruising trail of blocking from fullback Josh Shockley to get outside and move the chains. DJ Curl moved the Chargers closer with a tough gain of six before stud running back Keyante Green burst for a 23-yard touchdown run, serving up a pair of stiff arms and eventually running through Jonah Doster for the touchdown.
With a 7-0 lead, it would take trickery and misdirection for the Wolverines to find success against the stingy defense. Early in the first half on the only sustained drive of the game for the Wolverines, Carl Mattox took a fake punt deep in Chargers territory on a 47-yard gain. A dead ball personal foul on ELCA moved Prince Avenue all the way to the 20. The defense held strong and pushed the Wolverines back, and on another fourth down attempt, the pass from Zack Graham to Titus Campbell was downed short of the sticks and Eagle’s Landing took over.
Quarterback Dalton Etheridge was in the two-minute drill for the Chargers and found DJ Curl for a huge gain that took the Chargers into the red zone with a minute left in the half. Green fumbled, though, and the Wolverines gladly took a knee to escape into the half with only a 7-0 deficit.
Gess and his team played a near perfect second half and opened up their lead from the beginning. Jevious Terry returned the kickoff all the way to the Wolverine 24-yard line, and on the following snap, Curl ran it in for the touchdown.
The offensive talents that were helping put points on the board for the Chargers were also the ones keeping the points off the board for the Wolverines. Curl and Green were outstanding defensively.
Green was a leader for this team all season and playoffs even while playing through injury. While playing banged up in the semifinal win over George Walton Green admitted, “I was at 75 percent last week probably.”
Being in the Dome on the biggest stage gave Green all the boost he needed and after the game said he felt ready to play a big game.
“I know my team needed me today and that I needed to play hard on both sides of the ball and I felt great out there.”
Curl continued to keep the offense moving and Etheridge kept finding him for big plays. The backfield proved to be dominant all game and Brad Moore added to the exhibition on a reverse, breaking tackles from James Shirley, Sam Kennon and Huff before distancing the Chargers lead to 21 points and falling into the end zone.
Green would find the end zone for a second time from 12 yards and Etheridge would take it in on a three-yard quarterback keeper.
“I’m proud of the way these guys worked all year played together and the great young men they have become,” said Gess.
This is Gess’ sixth season as head coach and he has taken the ELCA Chargers to a state championship for the first time.