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Chattooga Indians Earn School-Record 4th Consecutive Playoff Trip

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Final Run

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As high school football edges closer to the playoffs, the Chattooga Indians are battling for position in the post-season picture. Despite a slow start, the Indians are just one game away from securing a three-way tie for 2nd place in Region 7AA, the deepest region in GHSA’s AA classification. While the final game is an uphill battle against last year’s Region Champs, Pepperell Dragons, Chattooga already has secured a school-record 4th consecutive playoff appearance by beating Dade County, 34-17, in last week’s Homecoming match up. The game marked the second start for Junior QB Clayton Johnson who went 9 of 13 passing for 122 yards and 2 Touchdowns while tacking on 58 yards and a score on the ground with just 8 carries.

For the Indian’s coaching staff, the loss of Senior QB, Punter, Kicker, and offensive leader, C.J. Martin to a back injury, was a devastating blow to a team already facing immense challenges. Martin entered the year with zero starts at QB and relatively little experience at the position. Clayton Johnson followed suit, taking over for Martin during the Model game and picking up his first start last week at Armuchee. The trial by fire has hardened Johnson quickly and his grasp of the playbook and speed of the game has already impressed coaches. Johnson is now 3-0 under center. With a freshman tailback (E.J. Lackey) and newcomer at wide receiver (Devin Price), the young team has caused fits for Head Coach, Charles Hammon and his staff with flashes of brilliance followed by moments of youth. A double-overtime loss to Coosa has kept the Indians from locking down the #3 spot in the region but hasn’t kept the team from losing focus.

Tale of the Tape

A side-by-side comparison of last year’s numbers with 2017 will quickly show some setbacks, but everyone knew those hurdles were coming.

Obviously losing the #1 & #2 rushers and scorers in school history will result in a loss of offensive production. The average offensive output per game has dropped from 360 yards to 260 yards and that, over the course of nine games has resulted in only two more losses on the season. The 2016 Indians defeated Cedar Bluff and Coosa, while the 2017 Indians lost to Fort Payne and Coosa. These two games sliding into the loss column have moved the Indians from a 6-3 team to a 4-5 team with only the Pepperell game remaining. Last year’s Indians lost that match up to finish the season at 6-4. The 2017 Indians have a legitimate chance to write their own fate.

Meeting Expectations

After a record-setting 2016 season, fans have been quick to criticize Hammon and his staff for the 4-5 (3-2 region) start. However, the numbers don’t tell the entire story. Chattooga has been slowly metamorphizing into a new culture of performance. Hammon has instituted key changes to the way things are done within the football program that have spilled over into other sports. Small changes like including the Middle School football team on the high school practice facility to allow an earlier grasp of high expectations, terminology and practice discipline, have already begun to pay dividends. The Middle School won a single game in 2016 but lost only two in 2017 and finished 2nd in the Region. The Junior Varsity team has changed their schedule to allow more players to compete on Monday nights and again on Friday night as the Indians completely dominated the JV league going 8-0 on the season. Several 8th grade players from the Middle School squad even got some playing time with the JV players in the final two games of the season.

Hammon’s strength and conditioning program has been a game-changer and includes all athletes, including those from the girls’ volleyball team which had their best season in school history and ended with a trip to the Final Four.

Success is Not a Destination

Planning for the long-term has been difficult with record-breaking players who were leading an epic season. 2017 is another step in the right direction for Hammon and the Indians. A painful step, but a step forward into a new era for Chattooga. The Indians of old may very well have laid down after the heart-breaking loss to Coosa. They may have laid down before that. But these Indians have battled back against all odds to make the playoffs and contend for 2nd place in the Region. Hammon still acknowledges a lot of work to be done but feels that the new Chattooga is all about the journey. Becoming better every day in every area of life. Success for the Chattooga Indians is not a single destination, but a journey that demands improvement every day, every week… and every year.

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Casie Bryant is the NW Georgia Regional Manager for AllOnGeorgia.

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