MONROE -- A region title almost literally slipped from Chestatee's grasp on Friday.
The War Eagles fumbled away four times -- three of which led to Monroe Area touchdowns, as the Purple Hurricanes came from behind to clinch a 28-21 victory and the Region 8-AAAA crown in Monroe.
The giveaways negated a determined War Eagles effort that saw the visitors take a 21-14 halftime advantage over the No. 4 Purple Hurricanes -- but a fumble at the start of the third quarter sparked Monroe's tying touchdown, and a fumble in the fourth quarter helped the Purple Hurricanes pull ahead for good.
"The turnovers killed our drives, especially in the second half -- and the defense played awesome and gave us a chance to win it, but those turnovers were just too much," War Eagles coach Stan Luttrell said. "You can't turn the ball over against good teams -- even though we held them well below what they average tonight."
Chestatee (7-2, 5-1 Region 8-AAAA) nearly pulled off its own comeback, marching inside the Monroe 20-yard line, but a fourth down pass fell agonizingly off-target to halt the drive and send the War Eagles to the region's second seed for the state playoffs and notch the Purple Hurricanes' second straight 8-AAAA title.
"We've got a standard that we expect to play to, and we didn't meet that standard tonight, but we played so well at times," Luttrell said. "We'll take this and learn from it."
Chestatee held the high-flying Purple Hurricanes offense well below their season average of 54.5 points and limited them to 244 yards -- 193 of that on the ground.
The War Eagles also rushed for 238 yards -- all of Chestatee's offense on the night -- led by 124 yards for Zac Cheshire, including a 41-yard touchdown run. But it wasn't enough to derail Monroe Area (9-0, 6-0), which was also missing five starters due to suspension, including standout quarterback Stanton Truitt -- not that you would have known it by the way the game started: Purple Hurricanes back-up quarterback Jacob Olson ripped off a 51-yard touchdown run on the game's opening possession.
Chestatee saw that play, and raised it, however.
Justin Spiers hauled in the ensuing kickoff and raced 90 yards for the answering score, 7-7 with 9:18 left in the first quarter.
The War Eagles did make the game's first big mistake, however, fumbling away late in the first quarter. The error providing the Purple Hurricanes with a possession that they made the most of. This time it was Michael Gallup at quarterback, and again the QB found a seam in the Chestatee defense, sprinting 33 yards for a 14-7 lead with 2:05 left in the first quarter.
Gallup burned Chestatee last season and proved a difference-maker again for Monroe on Friday, scoring two touchdowns -- one rushing and one passing -- and putting up 83 total yards.
Chestatee was not bowed by Gallup's first score, however, and forced a Monroe Area mistake early in the second half, Tray Bryant snagging an interception to give the War Eagles possession in Monroe territory.
The War Eagles made the most of it, Khalil Cantrell rumbling 24 yards for a touchdown -- though the point after attempt failed after a bad snap, pulling Chestatee within 14-13.
The score energized the War Eagles, who dominated the remainder of the quarter, including an impressive 41-yard scoring burst from Cheshire with 2:03 left in the half. Wyatt Burgess then lowered his head to barge into the end zone for a 2-point conversion and a 21-14 lead.
Chestatee could not keep the momentum after the interval, however, fumbling away on the opening possession of the third quarter -- and the turnover led to a 21-21 tie, as Gallup took advantage for Monroe, finding Demek Kemp for a 27-yard scoring strike.
The touchdown pass sparked the home side -- though the Purple Hurricanes needed some time and another War Eagles fumble to pull ahead.
Chestatee's defense produced a dogged stand at the start of the fourth quarter, forcing a turnover on downs at the War Eagles' 19 -- only to watch Chestatee fumble away on the very next play. And just like the previous two turnovers, the fourth turned into points for the opposition -- Kwan Brooks busting loose for a 19-yard touchdown run and a 28-21 lead with 8:31 left to play. Brooks finished with a game with 83 yards rushing to pace Monroe.
The War Eagles nearly came up with another explosive play to answer the touchdown, Cheshire busting loose for a 40-yard run, but Cheshire could not pull away from the last Monroe Area defender, who dragged the running back down by his jersey. The stop proved crucial, as the War Eagles could not find the end zone, eventually turning the ball over on downs to essentially end the contest.
"There were so many big plays tonight, and we had the better of them in the first half," Luttrell said. "But we allowed a couple in the second half, and they're a very good team."
The War Eagles will come home to close out the regular season next week against Madison County.
Chestatee..........7...14....0....0 -- 21
Monroe Area....14....0....7....7 -- 28
MA -- Olson 51 run (Fielding kick) 9:31, 7-0
CHS -- Spiers 90 kickoff return (Zamora kick) 9:18, 7-7
MA -- Gallup 33 run (Fielding kick) 2:05, 14-7
CHS -- Cantrell 24 run (kick failed) 9:35, 14-13
CHS -- Cheshire 41 run (Burgess run) 2:03, 14-21
MA -- Kemp 27 pass from Gallup (Fielding kick) 7:41, 21-21
MA -- Brooks 19 run (Fielding kick) 8:31, 28-21