In its final non-region contest of the regular season, Marist sent one final message that it is among the top contenders in Class AAAA.
Behind a relentless defensive effort, the War Eagles defeated visiting Gainesville 39-14, improving to 6-0 on the season as it heads into an off week to prepare for region play.
“We’ve got another week to look at ourselves, see what we like, what we don’t like,” Marist coach Alan Chadwick said after the game. “We’ve still got a lot of things we need to straighten out.”
The coach, as usual, is right.
Friday’s performance wasn’t without its hiccups for the War Eagles, who put the ball on the ground five times, losing two fumbles to the Red Elephants. Chadwick lamented those poor pitches that resulted in fumbles, and noted that the offensive line had some issues in pass protection, as well.
Despite the handful of mistakes, though, the game was never in doubt for Marist, which jumped to a 25-0 lead in the first half and never really looked back.
In the first half, the War Eagles put together scoring drives of 47, 52, 67 and 26 yards, three of which resulted in touchdowns.
Quarterback Chase Abshier scored on a 1-yard dive to put Marist ahead 7-0 with just under five minutes remaining in the first quarter, and, after forcing a punt on Gainesville’s ensuing possession, kicker Timmy Bleekrode extended the lead to 10 with a 27-yard field goal.
Another Gainesville punt gave the ball back to the Eagles, who took it 67 yards in five plays. Running back Charlie Addicks registered on the stat sheet in the passing game, getting behind the Red Elephants safety at midfield and hauling in a 42-yard touchdown pass from Abshier. Marist completed a two-point conversion, a pass to tight end John Fitzpatrick, to make it an 18-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
Later in the quarter, junior safety Kyle Hamilton intercepted a pass from Gainesville quarterback Tre Luttrell to set Marist up at the Red Elephants 26. Four plays later, the Eagles were back in the end zone on a 12-yard pass from Abshier to Dean Johnson.
“It took us a little while to settle into things we like,” Chadwick said. “(Gainesville) was coming at us hard, and we came back with some counters that loosened things up a bit.”
The Marist defense was suffocating, allowing just 49 yards of total offense in the first half and forcing two turnovers. Only one of Gainesville’s first-half drives went for more than 10 yards, a 15-yard drive that moved the ball to its own 32 before punting it back to the Eagles.
The score was 25-0 at the break.
“Our defense played their tails off,” Chadwick said. “(Defensive coordinator) Jeff Euart does an excellent job getting those guys ready to play.”
The defense briefly broke on a 92-yard scoring drive for the Red Elephants, capped by a 2-yard run by quarterback Tre Luttrell with 7:04 left in the third quarter. That closed the gap to 25-7, but that was as close as Gainesville would get.
Marist fullback Ellis Pearson ran for a 27-yard touchdown late in the third quarter to make it 32-7, and War Eagles defensive lineman Adam Pozzobon recovered a fumble for a touchdown less than a minute later to make it 39-7 and ensure a running clock in the fourth quarter.
Gainesville added one final score with two minutes remaining, a 33-yard pass from Luttrell to wide receiver Tre Blackwell.
Marist hosts West Hall on Oct. 13 to open region play. Gainesville (1-4) opens region play next week at home against Habersham Central.