Lithia Springs will open the 2014 season with a 5-1A private school, which might seem like an easy task for a 5-5A public school. However, Landmark is no pushover and has been a powerhouse in their classification for several years, constantly competing for a state championship.
The Lions will need to bring their “A” game to to the table tonight but even that might not be enough for such a tough opponent. Lithia does not have history on its side as of late as the team is coming off its worst regular season in school history after an winless 2013.
However, the team does have a new coach, who joins the Lions from a winning and proven program at Lovejoy High School.
Coach Craig Chatman is looking to build the Lithia program from the ground up and his first season could be full of growing pains. He has a very young team with a sophomore quarterback in Jadon Walker. Walker takes over for Tikal Petty, who transferred to New Manchester in the offseason.
Chatman is thrilled with his new QB, especially with his youth. Walker’s speed and athleticism stood out when the new coach made a visit to the school in the spring.
“He is a playmaker and can be as good in the pocket as he is out of the pocket,” Chatman said. “We can put five guys in a route and if everyone is covered, we can let him run, but he does not have to rely on his legs.”
Walker was tested against Douglas County in the team’s scrimmage game and an old problem quickly arose, not with Walker, but with an offensive line that struggled to slow anyone down last year. Walker used his speed several times to escape the pocket as it quickly collapsed around him.
While the young QB’s speed saved him a few time, his youth hurt him at times as he struggled to read the defense and had a couple of problems on the snap. A few costly turnovers allowed the Tigers to build a big lead early.
“Offensively, we have to get better in just about every phase of the game,” Chatman said after his team wrapped up the scrimmage. “The offense we run looks fun if used properly, but if not it can look ugly. Change is not going to happen over night, but these guys are making sacrifices.”
Lithia’s defense played well in the scrimmage but were handicapped early on with the good field position picked up off turnovers for DC. Anthony Oscar quickly made a name for himself in the scrimmage when he penetrated the middle of the offensive line and brought down the running back as the seconds ticked off the clock in the first half. The play prevented a score.
“Oscar played a heck of a game and was all over the field,” Chatman said. “I thought the defense played as well as they could play given the position they were put in early.”
The Landmark War Eagles have dominated their competition over the last three years, posting a record of 29-10. Landmark went all the way to the championship game in 2011, falling to Savannah Christian in the final. The team reached the quarter-finals in 2013 before losing to Prince Avenue. Last year the team seemed set to make a deep run into the playoffs, starting the season with eight straight wins. However, they lost their last three contests and were knocked out of the playoffs in the opening round.
This year, the War Eagles already have a win under their belt with a 43-13 beat-down of Christian Heritage. Landmark put the game away in the first half with 41 points.
Quarterback Stockton McGuire led the War Eagles with three first half passing touchdowns. Running back Ben Bagget got the scoring started with a 60-yard score. The defense also picked up a score when Joey Blount had a 90-yard return off a turnover.
This will be the first meeting between the two schools.