Boys Varsity Football
ATLANTA — For the first time since Sept. 25, 2015, ELCA wasn’t able to celebrate a varsity football win.
The Chargers’ 37-game winning streak came to and end Friday night at the hands of Pace Academy, who erased a 16-3 halftime deficit to score twice in the second half to win 17-16.
"Ultimately, you just have some bad nights," ELCA head coach Jonathan Gess said. "I knew when I scheduled Pace we may win or lose. Just the talent that they have, they don't have to be better than you to beat you, you just have to mistakes and we did that."
ELCA, who led 16-0 midway through the second quarter, recorded just one first down in the second half. Pace held the vaunted Chargers’ offense to just 14 total yards over the final two quarters after allowing 171 in the first half.
While ELCA’s offense was sputtering, the Pace offensive line began to find its footing in the second half. The Knights scored twice in the third quarter on drives centered mostly on running plays.
The Chargers couldn’t capitalize on an early interception by Kobi Mitchell and punted back to Pace from midfield. A friendly roll pinned Pace on its own 2-yard line, and after a 3-and-out, ELCA took advantage through a blocked punt by Jack Buckley. The ball was downed in the end zone by Pace, giving the Chargers a 2-0 lead via safety.
The special teams play kicked ELCA into life. The Chargers embarked on a seven-play drive, culminating in a 39-yard touchdown from Rush to Robinson. The senior quarterback led the 6-foot-4 receiver beautifully with a pass that covered 50 yards in the air.
ELCA took the air out of the stadium with a workmanlike 12-play, 81-yard drive that took more than four minutes off the clock. After running the ball on every play in the drive, the Chargers found the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 6-yard line. It was Rush finding Robinson again for their second touchdown completion of the half.
The Chargers let their foot off the gas at the very end of the half. A three-and-out gave Pace one more crack at points. ELCA committed two penalties — a pass interference and a personal foul — which gave the Knights 30 extra yards. Justin Ferguson made a 28-yard field goal at the buzzer to cut ELCA’s lead to 16-3.
ELCA went three-and-out to start the second half and gave Pace the ball back with great field position. The Pace offensive line started to generate a push up front, and the Knights churned out a pair of first downs. Lawrence Jordan then made a phenomenal individual play, spinning out of a tackle in the backfield and racing down the sideline for a 35-yard touchdown. After a failed extra point, ELCA’s lead was trimmed to 16-9.
The Chargers rolled the dice on their next drive. Facing a fourth-and-2 from their own 29, they decided to go for it, failing to convert the short-yardage situation due to a bad snap. Pace ran the ball right at ELCA, eventually getting a 4-yard touchdown run from Keashawn Perryman. A roughing the kicker penalty put the Knights on the 1-yard line. They went for it and took a 17-16 lead on Perryman’s short run.
ELCA’s offense sputtered in the third quarter, failing to record a first down in three series.
"We come out, we get a 3-yard gain and we snap the ball over the quarterback's head. Then, we wanted to throw a quick screen and it slipped out of Braden's hand, so we punt and give them short field," Gess said. "Our defense held the best we could but on 3rd-and-12 we missed three tackles and the kid busts down the sideline for a score, then we do the same on offense. I don't know what type of rhythm you can get into offensively like that. We have weapons in the passing game but with Justin Menard out, he's more of a passing threat, the formations are based around him. It was really a perfect storm."
The fourth quarter saw both teams stall out offensively. ELCA got great field position when Jack Buckley came away with a sack on fourth down, but quickly went three-and-out and punted back to the Knights. The teams traded punts over the next two series. ELCA got the ball back late in the period in Pace territory but decided to have the Knights re-kick after a penalty. The ensuing punt was bombed to the other side of the field, leaving ELCA with 80 yards to go in order to keep their streak alive.
The Chargers earned one first down, but that would be all. Rush was intercepted by Mbiti Williams to end the drive, and then Pace earned one first down, enough to bleed out the remainder of the clock and end ELCA’s streak.
"I just told them, you know, with Pace going crazy right then in the moment, you get to the point where you realize people want to see you get beat," Gess said. "Across the state, even some of your closest friends are tired of seeing you win. I turn on the (New England) Patriots and want to see them lose for no other reason than I'm tired of seeing them win.
"But it's an amazing accomplishment, 37 games in a row," he continued. "You gotta keep working. we build our program saying things like 'win the day' and 'keep chopping' — everything is predicated for a moment like this."
ELCA’s goal of winning a fourth straight Class A-Private state title is still attainable. The Chargers will return to action next week against Heritage-Conyers.