Etowah (6-0, 3-0) was playing the game without a handful of its starters, but the replacements stepped in and stepped up.
After the game, Etowah coach Dave Svehla declined to comment on the obvious absences of three starters who missed the game for disciplinary reasons. Svehla wouldn’t identify who the three suspended starters were, but it was clear that the Eagles were missing two primary offensive weapons in quarterback John Oliver and running back Brandon Engle.
Rather, Svehla wanted to talk about opportunities.
“This is an opportunity for kids to step up,” he said. “You can only coach the kids that are here.”
Not only did the win allow Etowah to match the best start of its history — equaling the 1987 team — but it allowed the Eagles to take the outright lead in Region 5AAAAAA, after Milton and Walton each suffered their first region losses Friday. The Eagles will have their bye next week before beginning their final stretch Oct. 18 at Cherokee.
Among the players stepping into key roles were sophomore quarterback Ryan Grigsby, sophomore defensive back Bronson Rechsteiner and junior running back Raishod Devezin. Freshman Tyrell Devezin, Raishod’s younger brother, filled in at cornerback.
Grigsby managed the game well, Rechsteiner had a pair of interceptions and Raishod Devezin carried the ball 25 times for 338 yards and two touchdowns.
“Ryan came in and did exactly what we needed him to do,” Svehla said. “Not make a bunch of mistakes and convert a couple of plays. Raishod was great, and Bronson (started) his first game for us and had two picks. They played big-boy football.”
Although the score was close for most of the game, Etowah’s defense kept Milton (5-1, 2-1) in check. The Etowah defense gave up fewer than 100 rushing yards, and another 149 in the air, but Milton only stayed close thanks to the performance of punter Matt Moskowitz and errors from the Etowah side.
Moskowitz punted the ball four times, with the shortest being 42 yards, and he pinned Etowah inside its own 5 three times. His 74-yard punt in the third quarter put Etowah on the 1-yard line.
On the first play from scrimmage on that possession, Grigsby was pulled down in the end zone for a safety. Not only did that put give Milton two points, but it also gave them possession. It scored on the drive to quickly take a 15-14 lead at the end of the period.
Svehla said that was the key moment in the game, but his players didn’t give up.
“Our kids came right back and continued to press and press and press,” Svehla said. “I was concerned, because I thought we played a really good first half and then, in the span of a couple minutes in the second half, we let them back into it.”
Etowah would retake the lead 3 minutes into the fourth quarter on an 18-yard field goal by Edwin Alfaro, on a drive that was extended by a personal foul called when Milton tackled Alfaro on his first field-goal attempt from 42 yards.
The ensuing drive by Milton was cut short when Rechsteiner intercepted his second pass of the night and put the ball back in the hands of the Etowah offense, which tacked on another touchdown — a 9-yard run by Stanlee Logue — with 4 minutes remaining.
Earlier in the game, Rechsteiner’s first interception set up Etowah’s initial touchdown.
Playing in place of injured Ben Rowell, picked off a pass by Milton’s Austin McLeod. Rechsteiner returned the ball more than 40 yards to set up a 4-yard touchdown run by Raishod Devezin.
Grigsby finished the game 5-for-9 for 47 yards. Keith Gordon caught a pair of key passes for first downs and finished with three receptions for 50 yards.