GAINESVILLE -- A region title race, playoff implications, two outstanding teams... all the storylines are in place.
Make no mistake, Chestatee football's battle at Lanier on Friday is a big game.
And yet you would never know it judging by the demeanor of War Eagles coach Stan Luttrell.
"For us it's not even about the opponent; the opponent is just who is up next," Luttrell said. "For us it's about playing Chestatee football. Yes, this is a big game, but we're going to focus on us and doing what we do."
It's an attitude that permeates the War Eagles program and one that Luttrell believes has aided his team's progress so far this campaign.
"I think it's one of the reasons good things are happening for us; everybody on this team has a great attitude," Luttrell said. "For the guys it's all about taking care of business. They're such a hard-working team, and they just come to work every day and thrive on that."
Chestatee has certainly excelled, rattling off five straight wins, including three Region 8-AAAA victories -- a span that has seen them allow just over seven points per game -- including two shutouts. That kind of play has the War Eagles tied for first place with defending region champ Monroe Area with just four games left in the regular season.
"We're playing really great defense right now; they're in a groove," Luttrell said. "Last week our defensive line played dominant (in a 27-0 defeat of Walnut Grove). And the guys come into each game expecting to win now. That's where we should be at this point, and it's great that we are."
Indeed, Chestatee (5-1, 3-0 Region 8-AAAA) is allowing just over 187 yards and 12 points per game -- and holding opponents to just under 3 yards per rush -- which are heady numbers indeed for a team that prides itself on physical play. Meanwhile, the War Eagles split back rushing attack is averaging 5.25 yards per carry.
That said, Chestatee knows none of that will come easy on Friday against a Lanier team that features an impressive mix of size and speed and has made big strides in their second season in Region 8-AAAA.
"They're the biggest, fastest team we have seen this year," said Luttrell, whose War Eagles pushed past Lanier in overtime last season (43-36). "They've got a defensive tackle and nose guard that both look about 300 pounds, and their defensive ends both look 6-foot-4 or taller. They look like a typical Gwinnett team."
Beyond the size, dual threat quarterback Canyon Cook gives the Longhorns (5-1, 2-1) an athletic option under center and has a big-play threat in receiver Devin Valentine. Running back Tario Fuller is also a big back with breakaway threat.
"We've got to continue to play great defense, and we've got to limit their big plays; they have made big plays in every game this season," said Luttrell of a Lanier offense averaging 32.5 points per game. That includes a 40-10 defeat of Eastside last week and a 56-28 defeat to 8-AAAA heavyweight and Class AAAA No. 4 Monroe Area -- the most points the Purple Hurricanes have allowed all season.
"We've also got to win the line of scrimmage and take care of the football on offense," said Luttrell.
Ball security had not been much of an issue for the War Eagles -- until last week, when Chestatee gave the ball away four times.
"Our running backs fight hard for extra yards, and sometimes that (fumbles) happens when you're in there fighting," Luttrell said. "But that was out of character for us last week."
What wasn't out of character was continued stellar play from running back Zac Cheshire. The senior churned his way to 95 yards rushing and two touchdowns, while also catching a screen pass and turning it into a long scoring play. And while the shifty Cheshire is not exactly a feature back for the War Eagles, who rotate a number of runners in the backfield, he has shown a knack for the big play, leading Chestatee with 677 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns and six catches for 55 yards and a TD.
"He's the guy that always seems to make something happen when we need it," Luttrell said. "He's consistent and persistent, but that big play ability has been big for us."
Cheshire is not alone, as the War Eagles have also made a number of big plays on defense and special teams, including defensive touchdowns, a fake punt for a 70-yard score and a blocked punt for a score.
"The next guy up is just doing what he has to do," Luttrell said.
The next guy knows he'll need to be at his best for the War Eagles on Friday -- and that's just the way Chestatee likes it. For what does a blue-collar team enjoy more than hard work?
CHESTATEE at LANIER
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: Longhorns Stadium, Sugar Hill
-- CHESTATEE (5-1, 3-0 Region 8-AAAA): Defeated Walnut Grove 27-0 last week.
-- LANIER (5-1, 2-1 Region 8-AAAA): Defeated Eastside 40-10 last week.
-- HISTORY: Chestatee won the only prior meeting between the two teams, 43-36 in overtime last season.