GAINESVILLE -- It was the kind of game in years past that would have been too big for Chestatee.
Not any more. This is the new-and-improved Chestatee.
The War Eagles used its customary ground game to pound out 314 yards and watched an inspired defensive effort in taking a 17-0 win over Stephens County Friday night at War Eagles Stadium.
None of it was lost on coach Stan Luttrell.
"It was our most complete game of the season and one of the best efforts by our defense ever," he said. "We have shown a tremendous amount of improvement since our first game against North Hall. It took some of our new guys a while to figure it out but I like where we are."
Over the years the War Eagles would find themselves in similar positions only to come up short in the big games. Friday may have shown they have grown up as a program.
"I feel like we have made a lot of progress as a program," Luttrell said. "This was a big game for us and a big win. I'm proud of how the guys responded."
While still early, the War Eagles (3-1, 2-0 Region 8-AAAA) now have put themselves in the conversation for their first region championship. But they still must play Monroe Area and Lanier, the other two undefeated teams coming into Friday's action, who were squaring off in Monroe.
Chestatee is exactly where it was at this time last year and would eventually finish second behind Monroe Area. Luttrell said repeating the same feat won't be easy.
"There are no easy games in this region but I like where we're sitting better after this one than if we had lost," Luttrell said. "We're just trying to keep getting better."
Playing what Luttrell calls "Chestatee football," they ran it early and often behind Zac Cheshire, who finished with 185 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries.
But it was the defense that set the tone early. Stephens looked to be driving for an opening score with six straight running plays to move to the Chestatee 21. But the Indians would fumble and the War Eagles would recover to stop the drive.
That was the best drive of the night for Stephens County (3-2, 1-1) until the fourth quarter.
"The defense was outstanding all game long. They got the turnover on the first drive and that really set the tone for the game I thought," Luttrell said. "Just a great effort."
Chestatee would hold the Indians to just 122 rushing yards and 170 total yards for the game.
After the turnover, the two teams would then trade punts with Chestatee getting a good return down to the Stephens County 25. The Indians defense would stiffen and hold Chestatee to a 23-yard field goal from Eddy Zamora for a 3-0 lead with just 51 second left in the first quarter.
The Indians tried to answer driving to the Chestatee 8 but the drive stalled and a 25-yard field goal attempt by Jacob Oliver sailed wide right. The War Eagles would take advantage.
They would drive 80 yards getting help with two big Stephens County penalties and a huge 14-yard run by Tray Bryant on third-and-9 to get to the Indians' 7. Cheshire would cap the drive on the next play with a 7-yard sprint up the middle and a 10-0 lead after a Zamora extra point with 4:07 left in the half.
The Chestatee defense then went to work again sacking Stephens quarterback Zeb Noland on consecutive plays to force another Indians' punt on their next possession.
Both defenses would control the second half. Chestatee was able to drive to the Stephens 20 late in the third quarter but the drive stalled at the Indians' 21.
Stephens moved to the Chestatee 11 midway through the fourth but the War Eagles sacked Noland for the fourth time on third down and a Noland pass into the end zone on fourth down was broken up by Justin Spears to preserve the shutout.
Chestatee would then put the game away behind Cheshire with eight straight running plays, capped by a 1-yard TD from Cheshire for a 17-0 lead with 4:53 left in the game.
Chestatee would stop Stephens one more time and then run out the clock.
NOTES: It was just the fourth shutout for Chestatee in school history, but the second in the last two seasons. . .Stephens County has scored 111 points in its three wins but just seven in its two losses combined. . .It was the first shutout of the Indians since they lost 28-0 to Cedartown in the second round of the 2001 playoffs.
Stephens Co.....0....0....0....0 -- 0
Chestatee.....3.....7....0....7 -- 17
CHS -- Zamora 23 FG 3-0, 0:51
CHS -- Cheshire 7 run (Zamora kick) 10-0, 4:07
CHS -- Cheshire 1 run (Zamora kick) 17-0, 4:53