Nobody, absolutely nobody, saw this coming.
After a scoreless first half, Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy returned the second half kickoff for a touchdown and then took advantage of three turnovers by Landmark Christian School to score four more touchdowns in the third quarter, en route to a 49-0 win on Senior Night at Landmark.
Both teams entered the contest undefeated – 9-0, 6-0 in Class A-Region 5 – and ranked No. 1 (ELCA) and No. 2 (Landmark) in the private poll. While the game started out looking like an even match up between the top two teams in the state, everything changed in a heartbeat in the second half as the Chargers claimed their seventh region title in a row and win No. 100 for head coach Jonathan Gess.
“I don’t know,” a Gatorade-drenched Gess said afterward, when asked to describe what happened. “I think in the first half we kind of shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times with mistakes and penalties. But we just said let’s keep chopping wood. Eventually, we think we’ll wear people down.”
However, it wasn’t fatigue that led to the blowout as much as it was mistakes by Landmark combined with ELCA’s ferocious defense and merciless offense.
First, sophomore Justin Menard returned the second half kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown. On Landmark’s ensuing possession, which started on its 20-yard line after Charger kicker Alex Usry drilled one of his six touchbacks on the night, senior running back/linebacker Lofton Tidwell was hit hard in the backfield and fumbled. ELCA recovered at the War Eagles’ 21-yard line and four plays later Josh Mays bullied his way into the end zone to give the Chargers a 14-0 lead less than two minutes into the third quarter.
Landmark gained a couple of first downs on its next possession but eventually punted to ELCA, which took over on its 29-yard line. After runs of five, 16, seven and eight yards by Mays and Trevor Gear, and a penalty for illegal procedure, Charger quarterback Brayden Rush kept the ball and headed off right tackle, broke three tackles, stepped out of an attempted ankle tackle at the goal line and stumbled into the end zone for a 40-yard touchdown run. The play essentially took the wind out of the War Eagles, who now trailed 21-0 late in the third quarter.
“We knew we were going to have to take a good punch from them,” Gess said. “I think after we got the kickoff return, they got a little tired and good things started happening for us, and it just sort of kept going from there.”
On Landmark’s next possession, which once again started on its 20-yard line, quarterback Joey Blount’s first-down pass was intercepted by sophomore linebacker Johnathan Youngblood at the War Eagle 18-yard line. Four plays later Gear banged into the end zone from 1-yard out to make the score 28-0.
“If you turn the ball over against any good team you’re going to get beat,” Landmark head coach Wayne Brantley said. “If you turn it over like we did against a team the caliber of ELCA, you’re going to get beat badly. That’s what happened tonight.”
The Chargers closed out the scoring in the third quarter on a 15-yard scoop and score fumble return by linebacker George Schockley, and picked up two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter on a 3-yard run by Gear and a 39-yard run by freshman Keaton Mitchell.
Both teams will now get ready for the state playoffs. After the Class A power ratings are made official on Tuesday, ELCA should enter the post season as the No. 1 seed while Landmark should remain among the top eight teams, and receive a first-round bye.
“[Bouncing back] won’t be a problem for this team,” Brantley said. “They love the game. They love each other. They love playing for each other. They’ll be ready.”
Eagle’s Landing Christian 0 0 35 14 49
Landmark Christian 0 0 0 0 0
E – Justin Menard 90 kickoff return (Alex Usry kick)
E – Josh Mays 1 run (Usry kick)
E – Brayden Rush 40 run (Usry kick)
E – Trevor Gear 1 run (Usry kick)
E – George Shockley 15 fumble return (Usry kick)
E – Gear 3 run (Usry kick)
E – Keaton Mitchell 39 run (Usry kick)