From the time the 2010 Chattahoochee football team was assembled, its players and coaches knew they might have something special, even if few others recognized it.
The Cougars were a playoff caliber team on offense last year in AAAAA, but their defense could not hold up in one of the state’s strongest regions.
This year, the Cougars’ defense more than held its own. It kept all 10 regular season opponents to two touchdowns or less, and closed out its championship season in style, shutting out Starr’s Mill 24-0 in the Class AAAA final at the Georgia Dome Dec. 10.
“This is so good,” leading tackler Josh Gregory said on the Georgia Dome field after the victory. “We did not have a shutout all year. To get one here was a really big deal to us.”
Gregory was one of three Chattahoochee seniors who transferred from Northview prior to the season to join a large and talented senior group already in place.
Standout quarterback Timmy Byerly was part of the core group of Cougars who had a special bond.
“We have been together since the sixth grade,” Byerly said. “We had a lot of returning starters, and when we had some of the Northview kids come over, it was just a great relationship.
“In June, the coaches told us this is the year for us,” he said. “The coaching staff prepared us for every game, and we kept playing well.”
The Cougars got a great year from Byerly (1,500 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns; 2,660 yards passing and 30 touchdowns), who returned after an excellent junior season with a large, outstanding, veteran offensive line to protect him.
Kane Whitehurst, another one of the Northview transfers with a Chattahoochee connection (his cousin is ex-Hooch QB Charlie Whitehurst, now in the NFL), gave Byerly a big-time target, catching 84 passes for 1,378 yards and 17 TDs (24 total). Freshman Chase Nelson added 610 yards and 6 TDs on only 65 carries.
Gregory, a linebacker, and defensive back Chris Johnson, the third key Northview senior transfer, helped solidify a defense that excelled in almost every game, despite having little size.
The Cougars were fast, aggressive and well coached on defense, and showed it against a Starr’s Mill team with plenty of weapons.
“We were in the film room all week,” Gregory said. “We knew we could stop them and just came out and hit ‘em in the mouth.”
Only two teams really challenged the Cougars this season, especially the Chattahoochee defense, and those were the two games in which the team displayed its championship character.
After getting trampled by the Marist wishbone for two quarters, the Cougars shut out the War Eagles in the second half to win on the first of kicker Ammon Lakip’s two last-minute, playoff-winning field goals.
“We knew we had to face adversity at some time,” Chattahoochee coach Terry Crowder said. “After Marist, we didn’t have to talk about it any more.”
The defense also came up with a huge fourth quarter stop against Statesboro to give the offense and Lakip a chance for more late heroics.
Although the Cougars have several players who will make state all-star teams and are drawing attention from college recruiters, Crowder has stressed that their success “was a total team effort.”
“We’ve talked about this since January. It was not about any individual,” he said.
While Crowder said he knew this could be a special team, it wasn’t something he spent much time pondering about.
“We just played week to week,” Crowder said. “I never thought about how good we were.”
It turned out the Cougars were good enough to complete an unbeaten season and win the first football championship in school history.