MCDONOUGH — For the fourth straight season, the Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy Chargers are practicing on the final week of the season in preparation for a trip to the Class A-Private state championship game this Friday.
ELCA will look to win its third straight state championship against Athens Academy. It will be a matchup of the two top ranked teams in the classification, and it will take place Friday at 10 a.m. at the new Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
The Chargers have become a mainstay at the Georgia High School Association’s state football championships over the last decade. Head coach Jonathan Gess said his program’s experience playing in the big game is obviously an advantage that many other programs around the state don’t have.
“We’re used to it. The key is you can’t make the moment bigger than it is,” Gess said during Monday’s practice. “It’s a football game and you have to go execute to win it. That’s how we treat it. Obviously the school is buzzing and we get to go play at the Mercedes Benz Stadium, but that’s just part of it. We need to go enjoy that but we need to win the day on Monday, win it on Tuesday and treat it like any other game.”
ELCA’s opponent, Athens Academy, also has a rich tradition. Since 2004, the Spartans have won nine or more games nine times, including this season’s perfect 13-0 record. Athens Academy is one of the few schools in Class A-Private that can match ELCA’s dominance this season — the Spartans have outscored their opponents 40-8 on a per game basis this year.
“Athens Academy, first of all they have a great coach in Josh Alexander. He’s a dynamite football coach,” Gess said. “Athens Academy has always been a power in Class A football. Even before he got there, they had 10-0 teams, 12-1 teams. What they have is a great group of high school football players. I wouldn’t say there is any one superstar on the team, not to say that they don’t have college football players because they do, but when you turn on the film they’re all good. That’s what makes them great. They don’t stop, they keep coming after you, you’re not going to break their will or give up. Obviously they’re 13-0, so it’s going to be a great game Friday.”
This year’s ELCA team appears to be even more equipped to handle all that comes with playing in a state championship game than in previous years. The Chargers have multiple players on both sides of the ball who have played in each of the last two state championships.
“It helps a lot,” offensive lineman Zack Jones said regarding championship game experience. “I remember my sophomore year starting for the first time my eyes were wide going to the Dome. I was so nervous. Last year my nerves were calm and this year I’m sure it will be just another game.”
ELCA played those games in the Georgia Dome, which will make way this year for the Mercedes Benz Stadium. The game will also be played at an odd 10 a.m. start time, although ELCA has played each of the last three state championships at that time.
“It’s going to be fun to see the Mercedes Benz Stadium, I’ve never been so I’m excited to go,” Gess said. “We’re going to get there early and take it in. I’m sure once you get out there early, it’s a football field, it’s no different. It being in the morning, we’ve played in the morning before so we kind of know what to expect there. At the end of the day, you have to go play.”
If the Chargers can win Friday, they will become just the fifth program since 1990 to win three straight state championships. Thomas County Central did from 1992-94, while Parkview won it from 2000-2002. Buford has done it twice — from 2007-2010 and from 2012-2014, and Charlton County won three straight from 2004-06.
The importance of solidifying their place in history is not lost on ELCA’s accomplished group of seniors, who hope to add one more accolade to their already impressive list.
“It means a lot. I’ve played here since seventh grade. The foundation from the guys before us from guys like Issac Rochell and Andrew Williams, who built it — we want to leave that legacy behind us,” Taylor said.