CHAPIN - Chapin was probably the most unlikely unbeaten team in the state after seven weeks. To hear first-year coach Scott Earley tell it, the Eagles were an opportunistic team that had every break go its way in rising to fifth in the Class 3A rankings.
But the magic ran out as the Eagles dropped a 34-14 decision to Chester on Friday night at Cecil Woolbright Field.
"We've gotten every break in the world. All year long we have been the luckiest team in the state," Earley said. "I told them sooner or later the hat is going to run out. This will do us good. We will bounce back from this."
Earley knew Chapin would need all the breaks to keep place with the Cyclones. Things started well for the Eagles, but then the breaks started going Chester's way. Two in particular on special teams turned out to be key.
Chester scored first after a roughing-the-kicker penalty kept a drive alive, and Julius Pendergrass scored the first of his four touchdowns on a 6-yard run.
The second miscue could have been the game changer. With the score tied at 14 in the middle of the third quarter, Victor Frick misplayed a punt at midfield that Bobby Kelly scooped up for Chester (7-1, 2-1 in Region 4-3A).
Eight plays later, Pendergrass rumbled in from 9 yards for the go-ahead score.
"We've had those types of plays go against us most of the year, so it was nice to see a few go our way," Chester coach Maurice Flowers said of the special teams blunders.
Once they had the lead, the Cyclones leaned on their offensive line, which averages about 280 pounds a man. Pendergrass and Brent Minter each rushed for over 100 yards; Pendergrass went for 137 yards on 24 carries, and Minter finished with 119 yards on 31 carries. The bruising ground game allowed Chester to run 81 offensive plays to 45 for Chapin (7-2, 2-1).
Chester was forced to rely on the ground game with quarterback Tony McNeal sitting out his second straight game with an injured ACL. After gaining the lead, the Cyclones didn't attempt another pass. They added two fourth-quarter scores, on drives of 11 and 10 plays.
"With the big line we've got, we need to wear some people down," Flowers said. "Even with Tony playing, we want to lean on the running game. We struggled in the throwing game, but it's always good to have that line to fall back on"
Earley said Chester's size and strength up front was the difference.
"That game is a weight-room game, and we hadn't been in it since May 1," he said. "They have a good strength and conditioning program at Chester and (have) been doing it for years. We didn't have enough gas in the tank. We aren't strong enough yet. We aren't physically able to play at this level yet."
The Eagles started strong, scoring twice in the span of 1 minute, 43 seconds late in the first quarter to take its only lead. Joe Rister caught two long passes, the second a 34-yarder from Michael Weimer to tie the score at 7.
Gilberto Alomar then intercepted a pass and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown. Alomar almost was knocked down by one of his teammates before weaving his way through the Cyclone defense.
Flowers was pleased with his team's defensive effort from that point. The unit limited the Eagles to 13 yards rushing and less than 200 total yards.
"Great job by our defense," Flowers said. "The offense put them in some bad situations early, but they kept plugging away and did what they had to do against a good offensive team."
Chester 7 7 7 13 - 34
Chapin 14 0 0 0 - 14
Chester - Julius Pendergrass 6 run (Marshall Whitesides kick) 4:45
Chapin - Joe Rister 34 pass from Michael Weimer (Colden King kick) 2:29
Chapin - Gilberto Alomar 38 interception return (King kick) :46
Chester - Pendergrass 8 run (Whitesides kick) 10:14
Chester - Pendergrass 9 run (Whitesides kick) 2:04
Chester - Pendergrass 8 run (kick failed) 6:58
Chester - Brent Minter 1 run (Whitesides kick) 2:21
First Downs 20 9
Rushes-yds 60-263 13-13
Passing 82 185
Comp-Att-Int 8-21-1 13-32-1
Punts 0-0 4-38
Fumbles-Lost 5-1 3-1
Penalties-yards 7-80 3-25
Rushing - Chester: Julius Pendergrass 24-137, Brent Minter 31-119, Tevin Worthy 5-3, Bobby Kelly 1-4. Chapin: Josh Sanga 8-22, Victor Frick 2-(-11), Michael Weimer 2-0, Joe Rister 1-2.
Passing - Chester: T. Worthy 8-21-1-82. Chapin: M. Weimer 13-32-1-185.
Receiving - Chester: B. Kelly 2-12, Deon Strong 3-40, J. Pendergrass 1-7, B. Minter 1-5, Deterrion Hardin 1-18. Chapin: J. Rister 4-84, V. Frick 3-61, Conner Lowder 3-20, Matthew Hood-Pittenger 1-5, Collosian Dewalt 2-15.