By Luke Strickland - Henry Herald
MCDONOUGH — Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy once again proved to be the class of the Georgia High School Association’s Class A-Private classification last Friday with a 41-3 win over Athens Academy in the state championship game.
The Chargers also etched their place in the state history books with the victory. ELCA became just the ninth team in state history to win three straight state championships. The Chargers beat Aquinas 35-14 in 2015, Fellowship Christian in 2016 and Athens Academy this season.
“When I got here in 2007 we got beat in the first round of the playoffs, the second year we got beat in the second round by Lincoln County and they beat us again in 2009,” ELCA head coach Jonathan Gess said. “In 2010 we went 10-0 but got beat by Clinch County. It’s been a process. It’s a wave that’s been growing and building. We had a special team in 2012 with great players, but we honestly thought we’d never coach a team like that ever again. The program just kept growing and getting better. Most these kids who are seniors were in elementary school and saw that 2012 team.”
Gess became the 12th coach in state history to win at least four state championships. ELCA won its first state title under Gess in 2012. In all, Gess improved to 102-17 in nine seasons. The most state championships by a head coach in state history is 14 by Valdosta’s Wright Bazemore.
ELCA’s state championship win was also its 36th straight victory, dating back to 2015. That too is inching closer to the state record of 47, which was set in 2004 by Buford. ELCA’s current streak is the 11th longest in state history, and can pass Buford’s streak with a perfect season next year.
In terms of dominance this season, ELCA outscored its opponents 728-72, including 205-3 in the state playoffs. On a per game basis, the Chargers outscored opponents 52-5, which is a school record.
The Chargers did so with a deep group of contributors. ELCA had six players rush for 400 yards or more this season, led by Josh Mays’ 1,389 yards. Nine different players scored a rushing touchdown. Quarterback Brayden Rush finished with 1,317 yards passing, meaning the Chargers were successful offensively without the luxury of a passer or a rusher with more than 1,500 yards.
ELCA was even more dominant defensively. The Chargers gave up 50 points in their first four games before surrendering 22 points in their remaining 10 games. They finished the season with six shutouts, including three in the playoffs. Athens Academy kicked a field goal with a minute left in the fourth quarter of the state championship game, ending the shutout streak.
“It’s really awesome,” Gess said. “It’s a testament to the hard work that our kids and coaches have put in. This is a special group — we say we have a special group of seniors but it goes back to the 2015 group. Obviously the 2018 class is special, but the juniors and sophomores under this group are special as well. We had a goal and hopes and dreams and desires, and our kids worked their tails off to accomplish those things.”
ELCA’s senior class finished their careers with a record of 46-10 and three state championships. After losing 49-7 to Mount Paran Christian in the state championship as freshmen in 2014, ELCA has lost just three times since.
Gess said he’s been able to put last week’s state title victory in better perspective as he’s had time to reflect.
“In life you work hard — we say ‘win the day’ — but you don’t know what it’s going to get you,” Gess said. “When you have that opportunity and a special group of kids, you want to be special. We always say if you’re better by 50 then win by 50, if you’re better than 40 then win by 40, if you’re better than one then win by one.
“As I reflect back its special,” he continued. “People assume we cheat and recruit, but we do none of that. There isn’t a coach in this county that can say they’ve seen me watching youth games or a kid that can say I ever called them. It’s amazing what we’ve done. It’s a testament to the players, coaches, the school and the parents believing in something and achieving it.”