MONROE -- Pay no attention to the headlines and distractions of the past few days.
This is still shaping up to be one heck of a football game.
At least that's the way Chestatee has prepared for tonight's Region 8-AAAA title showdown at Monroe Area.
"Monroe is a good football team and Chestatee's a good football team. I think Friday is going to be what region championships should be," War Eagles coach Stan Luttrell said. "It's going to be at their place this year. They came up and played a great game and beat us here last year, and we're looking forward to a second chance."
Monroe Area was minus its standout quarterback for last year's 8-AAAA showdown in Gainesville but pulled away from a 21-14 first half scoreline for a 35-14 victory. This year Stanton Truitt will again miss the contest but instead of dealing with injury the Auburn-bound Truitt (1,133 yards rushing, 592 yards passing) is one of seven Purple Hurricanes players -- including five starters -- suspended for taking part in a fight on the sidelines of last week's 68-14 win over Madison County.
It is not a development that has meant much to the War Eagles, however. (NOTE: To watch a video preview of the game, click "play" on the box to the right.)
"We've made a big deal all week to focus on what we can control, and we can't control anything at Monroe Area," Luttrell said. "But what we can control is Chestatee War Eagle football, and what we can control is our attitude, our effort and how we prepare, and we've had a great week getting ready for things."
And the War Eagles are still prepping to face an explosive Purple Hurricanes attack that has run over most foes while averaging 54.5 points per game. This week that unit will be led by Jacob Olson, who came on after Truitt's ejection last week and steered fourth-ranked Monroe Area to the sizable victory -- and Luttrell does not expect a huge drop off in talent with the players the Purple Hurricanes still have available.
"I think they're very good on both sides of the ball," Luttrell said. "Their offensive line is big and they do a great job at doing what they do, and their defensive line is the same thing, big and physical. The front eight on both sides of the ball is going to be the determining factor in this game, that and turnovers."
Monroe Area's front line has done a masterful job so far clearing the way for running back Kwan Brooks (1,147 yards rushing), and the War Eagles know they must guard against letting the explosive Brooks get loose on the perimeter.
"We've got to maintain outside leverage," Chestatee senior safety/linebacker Tyree Robertson said. "They're really fast and like to play outside. If we get the inside covered down though, we've got a pretty good d-line, and that should be a big key."
In fact, Chestatee has played well at all levels of its defense this season, allowing just 189 yards per game and just 2.5 rush yards per carry. And while the War Eagles are allowing 13.5 points per game they have yielded more than seven points in regulation just once since a Sept. 20, 33-23 win at Eastside and have forced 16 turnovers so far this campaign.
Big plays have played a big role in all three phases of Chestatee football in 2013 -- for instance the War Eagles blocked a punt and returned it for a score to force overtime at Lanier on Oct. 18, a game Chestatee went on to win 20-17. And that knack for play-making has imbued the current crop of War Eagles with a confidence that could pay dividends in yet another big contest.
"We just have playmakers on our team," Chestatee senior linebacker Tray Bryant said. "We're all kind of focused during the game, but when it comes down to it we make plays when we have to."
Combine that with the success and experience of last season -- and a blue-collar roster and you have a War Eagles program that is more than comfortable with the task in front of them.
"There are really no superstars on this team, even though we've had some great individuals step up during the year," Luttrell said. "Instead of counting on one guy, we're counting on our team to play well to win. And I think that's great, in the eighth year of me being here. That's a great place to be. I think our young men have really bought into that idea, and I think it's showing on Friday nights."
Having already won two impressive road contests (at Eastside to start the 8-AAAA campaign and at Lanier), it's also showing away from home.
"We talk about 'taking care of business.' These guys treat going on the road like business trips, and everything we do pregame is like a business trip, well-organized and very thought out to a T," Luttrell said. "We've gone on the road several times this year and played in big games. And this is the next business trip."
That does not mean the War Eagles are looking at Friday as routine -- they more than understand what is on the line, including the program's first region title and perhaps the biggest victory in team history. But they are refusing to get carried away with the possibilities.
"We knew we were going to be here because we have a hard-working team," Bryant said. "We may not have as much talent as last year, but we definitely work a lot harder. And we're excited for this opportunity."
It will by no means be easy, but the War Eagles gladly accept their underdog status and hope to turn a few heads in the process.
"It's always good to pull an upset," Robertson said. "Chestatee's not really a team to get a lot of respect, so we hope to earn some."
Find a way to win tonight and that will not be a problem.
CHESTATEE at MONROE AREA
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
-- WHERE: Legion Field, Monroe
-- RADIO: 102.9 FM
-- CHESTATEE (7-1, 5-0 Region 8-AAAA): Defeated Lumpkin County 42-14 last week.
-- MONROE AREA (8-0, 5-0 Region 8-AAAA): Defeated Madison County 68-14 last week. The Purple Hurricanes are ranked No. 4 in Class AAAA.
-- HISTORY: Monroe won the last meeting, 35-14 in 2012. The Purple Hurricanes are 3-0 against Chestatee.