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Trojans lose heartbreaker in Toccoa, 43-37

Late TD lifts Stephens County, knocks North Hall from state contention

POSTED: October 29, 2010 11:31 p.m.

TOCCOA — North Hall's 43-37 loss to Stephens County on Friday at The Reservation was tough to swallow.

It was hard for the Trojans (4-5, 2-3 Region 8A-AAA) to wrap their head around losing after rushing for 439 yards and touchdowns on the ground from four different players, including the go-ahead score from Imani Cross on a 38-yard run to take a 37-35 lead with only 1:35 left to play in the game.

But that lead for North Hall proved to be short-lived.

After running well all night, Stephens County (7-2, 4-1) found the quick-strike passing game quite effective in the final 1:20 of play. The Indians scored on a 41-yard pass play from Mark Palmer to T'omas Colbert with only 46 seconds left in the game to take the lead for the final time at 43-37.

The winning score was set up by a 26-yard completion to Cassadine Blassingame from Palmer.

Stephens County also scored on a big special teams play with a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown from Terry Moorer in the second quarter.

"We'd like to think we could have stopped them with less than two minutes left to play," North Hall coach Bob Christmas said. "The special teams touchdown was also very big."

With the loss, North Hall will miss out on the state playoffs for the first time since 2005. The Trojans will play host to Oconee County (3-6, 2-3) next Friday at The Brickyard to complete the season.

The majority of the game was back and forth with both teams moving the ball at will. North Hall and Stephens County combined for 727 rushing yards.

Stephens County scored on a time-consuming 90-yard drive that started with 10:57 left in the fourth quarter on a 1-yard run from Palmer to take the lead at 34-31 with 3:18 left in the game. The drive stayed alive with two crucial third-down conversions from Indians sophomore running back Chaz Thornton, after no first downs the entire third quarter for the team.

"This win feels great for our program," Thornton said. "Our offensive line played great all night and gave a great push up front for the touchdown in the fourth quarter."

Thornton was the workhorse for Stephens County all night with 36 carries for 245 yards and touchdown runs of 25 and 36 yards.

Still, North Hall found a way to rally in the fourth quarter and scored quickly with a five play drive and scored on a 38-yard run from Imani Cross (15 carries, 137 yards). He finished the game with two touchdowns and led the Trojans in rushing, along with senior Mack VanGorder with 13 carries for 135 yards a touchdown.

North Hall took its first lead at 31-28 in the third quarter with a 50-yard touchdown run by Randy Olson. Then, the Trojans' defense went to work the remainder of the quarter and stopped Stephens County's running game three separate times on third-down attempts by Thornton.

However, Olson's touchdown was the only one North Hall could muster in the third quarter. A first down run by Cross later in the third quarter was wiped out on a holding penalty.

North Hall also had a critical penalty on an Indians punt drive midway through the second quarter, which gave Stephens County the ball back at the 36. On the next play, Thornton made North Hall pay when he ran straight through two would-be tacklers and went in for the 36-yard score.

Thornton (5-foot-8, 170) carried the ball on Stephens County's first 10 offensive plays of the game, including his first touchdown from the 25 early in the first quarter. On a fourth-and-4 and tied 7-7 late in the first quarter, Palmer picked up 4 yards plus an additional 15 for a personal foul against North Hall. Palmer scored three plays later on a run from the 1.

With the win, Stephens County plays host to Johnson (2-7, 2-3 Region 8B-AAA) for a playoff spot next Friday at The Reservation. This is redemption for Thornton after the team finished 3-7 in 2009.

"We have goals as a team this season," Thornton said. "We're looking really good as a team right now and trying to restore some pride to this program."



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