High School football season opened in Chattooga County with a lot of fan fare, in the form of a brand new jumbotron video board, and high expectations, in the form of brand new offensive coordinators, a new look offense and several new faces to be led by a handful of key veteran players.
Indians Fight Until the Final Whistle
For Head Coach Charles Hammon, the week one match up with Fort Payne’s Wildcats was more than just a test of how effectively a young inexperienced offense could move the football, it was a chance to see exactly what his defense was made of. Fort Payne rolled into the Little Big Horn with a team of seasoned, battle-tested players including senior quarterback Jay Tyler Ellis and kicker/ punter Evan McPherson. Both players have garnered college recruiting attention and Mcherson is already committed to Mississippi State. Head Coach Paul Ellis let his son air the ball out early and often to keep the Indians on the ropes and on their heels. While the Chattooga defensive front four were effective at getting pressure, the secondary was found suspect time and time again and Ellis hooked up with receivers, Pinholster, Crow and Wells. As Chattooga struggled to slow the relentless air attack, their only respite came from the equally relentless attack of seniors T.J. Adams and Quintell Price along with Izzy Dammond and sophomore Luis Medina, who were all superb in the trenches and managed to flush Ellis from the pocket on multiple occasions. While the Indian attack sacked Ellis and pressured him, his elusive feet kept him upright long enough to connect on 11 of 20 passing for 190 yards. Late in the game, as Chattooga began adjusting in the secondary, the run game was wide open as the Wildcat’s balanced attack picked up ten first downs on the ground and another ten through the air. The additional three first downs from penalties gave them 23 on the night and nearly doubled the Indians’ production.
For Chattooga, the slow start was a tradition Hammon was looking to break; however, his young team, facing a 0-13 deficit by the second quarter, responded extremely well. As the coaching staff worked to make personnel adjustments, defensive coordinator Bob Smith found production from Malachi Mack, Jackson Lowenberg and his entire front four. Linebacker T.J. Worsham came up big in clutch moments and Tre Flowers finished the game with seven tackles at Safety.
On offense, Coach David Gann and Chris Hodges played a chess game as they continued to solve the problem of which players were ready to step forward and perform. Midway through the second quarter, pinned on their own 9 yard line, senior Dee Price lined up at quarterback and took the snap straight up the middle, outrunning all defenders as he rushed 91 yards to pay dirt. The PAT was good as senior all-purpose standout, C.J. Martin went 4 for 4 on PATs while tossing three touchdown passes on the night. Martin was 6 for 13 through the air for 78 yards with no pass bigger than his 26 yard TD strike to junior receiver Devin Price. Price lept over a defender to snatch the touchdown catch on a 4th and 5 pass, with just under two minutes remaining, to give the Indians their only lead of the night. Martin’s first touchdown pass of the night brought the crowd to their feet as he hit T.J. Adams on an 8 yard pass to cut the Wildcat lead to six. Adams led the team on defense with eight tackles and a sack and contributed on offense with his lone reception on the night going for six. Martin’s three touchdown passes were a tribute to solid play from his offensive line and a dominating performance from right tackle Dustin Pope. The senior offensive lineman used his 6’6″ 315 lb frame to open running lanes, protect his quarterback and completely abuse any defender who found himself lined up across from Pope. His 11 pancake blocks led the O-Line and he graded out offensively with a 92% rating. Pope, and Price’s big run, helped the Indians to 218 yards rushing on 26 attempts. Dee Price led the way with 124 yards and a TD on just nine carries. Even without his 91 yard run, Price still averaged over 4.1 yards per carry. Junior Devin Price picked up 62 yards on five carries, averaging 12.4 yards per carry but was even more electric through the air. Price hauled in three catches for another 57 yards and two scores. While Devin Price has carried much hype into the season for a player who didn’t play a varsity down last year, he lived up to the billing on opening night.
Indian coaches will have a lot to build on after the gutsy performance by the young team.
C.J. Martin dealt with throwing two interceptions but more than balanced the errors with three TD passes, four PAT’s, 41 yard punting average and several booming kick offs, all but one inside the 10 yard line. Martin kept his poise and rallied the Indians back from a 14-27 deficit in the fourth quarter with two scoring drives to put Chattooga on top 28-27 and a 1:52 to go. Unfortunately, a weary defense couldn’t contain Ellis as the Wildcats worked their way into field goal range for McPherson, whose 25 yarder ended the night with a Fort Payne win 30-28.
Takeaways on Defense
The front four are as good as advertised. Medina and Adams were a constant force against Ellis and the Wildcat offense. Solid penetration and several tackles for loss forced five Fort Payne punts. The linebackers were caught off guard against the swift slot receivers and then played off balance late in the game on the final drive when they were looking for passes when the Wildcats called several sweeps. Worsham, Mack and Lowenberg still brought big hits and each had tackles in the backfield. The safeties and corners are susceptible to the passing attack and an accurate arm has victimized them in the preseason game and again on week one.
Takeaways on Offense
The O-Line is fortunate to have Pope. His presence in the trenches has picked up an aggression that college recruiters have been waiting to see. Hopefully the rest of the line will continue to raise their play in the coming weeks. Sophomore Center Devin Blackman was consistent and avoided turnovers while faced with a revolving door in the backfield and pressure up front. Dee Price is explosive. And FAST. After his disastrous fumble in the preseason, Price has rebounded with more focus and downhill running. His diminutive stature does nothing to slow down his running style and he is a legitimate threat to score every time he touches the football.
C.J. Martin can lead the offense. His fourth quarter rally was the stuff of legends. Martin did his part to shake off two picks and put his team in a position to win the game. The clutch “4th and 5” TD throw was pure perfection and gave his team the confidence they will need later in the season when region play begins.
Devin Price deserved the hype. His 6’2″ frame and long arms, and basketball back ground, give him the confidence that every ball in the air is his to catch. Every snap is a step in the right direction for Price and coach Hammon is committed to developing Price to his full potential. According to Hammon, that potential should take him far beyond the Friday night lights.
Takeaways on Special Teams
Jamarious Mosteller can be a game changer. Mosteller’s 66 yards of kick off returns set up big drives. Mosteller added 16 yards rushing on five carries and, as yet another impact sophomore, has demonstrated serious potential to make the Chattooga special teams a place for points to put on the board.
C.J. Martin’s leg is a weapon. The kickoffs were booming and the PAT’s were down the middle. These essential elements of a game can’t be overstated. Keep in mind, the game was almost lost on a missed PAT by Fort Payne and was eventually won by a field goal with 18 seconds on the clock. A big leg is a huge weapon for the Indians to utilize down the stretch. Add to this the punt power Martin brings to the table, and he is a special team’s dream come true. Chattooga only punted twice and Martin flipped the field both times. Any punt over 40 yards is beneficial and gives a defense a chance to make a stand without their backs to the wall.
11 penalties for 84 yards is too much and Coach Hammon will likely be addressing those mental errors. The week one woes were felt on the Fort Payne sideline as well with the Wildcats picking up 12 penalties for 129 yards.
The Indians will face another pass happy offense in 3A playoff contender, Dawson County as Chattooga heads south in their week two, non-region match up.
Photos by: Sky Stewart