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East Hall has one more chance to defeat Blue Devils

East Hall hosts Elbert County on Friday in a Region 8-AA play-in game

POSTED: November 1, 2011 7:12 p.m.
Scott Rogers/The Times

East Hall's Jeffery Howard practices with the defense during the Vikings' practice Tuesday afternoon at East Hall Stadium.

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C.J. White has been through some of the toughest years in the history of the East Hall football program.

The Vikings senior was there when the team finished with one win in 2008, went 1-9 again in 2009 and then 3-7 in 2010.

The Vikings’ 2011 season has been a welcome change for the senior lineman, the coaching staff and the players who have been a part of the turnaround.

"I’ve been through three years of getting my butt kicked," White said. "Now we have the talent and depth to do it to other programs."

Led by a stout defensive line that includes standout players in White (30 tackles, eight tackles for loss, three sacks), Jeffery Howard (27.5 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries, six sacks) and Devonte Benton (18 tackles, 11 tackles for loss), East Hall (5-4, 3-2 Region 8-AA North) is no longer an easy win for most teams.

Now the Vikings have a chance to prove that against one of the few teams this season that brought back memories of years past.

Elbert County, which has been ranked in the top 10 in Class AA much of the year, is the only team to shut out East Hall this season, winning 48-0 at the Granite Bowl in Elberton on Sept. 9. The Vikings will host the rematch at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

Elbert County landed in the play-in game after losing 17-6 to North Oconee last week in the de facto subregion 8-AA South championship game.

"We were relatively surprised that North Oconee won," said East Hall coach Bryan Gray, in his fifth year at the helm of the program. "But we still feel Elbert is the strongest team in the region."

But the result did turn into a talking point for the Vikings.

"We told the team: They may be giants, but they can be beat," Gray said. "So our motto is to let it loose and have fun."

Regardless of the outcome, East Hall will avoid a losing season for the first time since 2006, when the team finished 5-5. But the Vikings are determined to put on a better showing than last time.

"We’re coming out here with a purpose and we’ve got something to prove," Howard said. "We have to make up for the loss, so we’re coming out here with a vengeance."

And this time they get to play under the lights at East Hall Stadium and with the home crowd in support.

"At home we’re in our own element," Benton said. "We have the fan support, and it’s just that home feeling."

Even at home it’s still a tall order to knock off the Blue Devils, but at least the Vikings have the blueprint.

In its wins this season, East Hall has held on to the ball and forced turnovers, none more so than Howard, who has five fumble recoveries.

If the Vikings can win, or at least not lose, the turnover battle, their other task is to stop the Elbert County running game. In the first nine games of the season, all wins, the Blue Devils rushed for over 200 yards in each. Last week against North Oconee the Titans held them to 183 yards on the ground.

The Vikings defensive line, which also includes Clay Powers, will be tasked with helping to slow the Blue Devils’ dangerous running game.

The danger starts with running back Tyshon Dye, who ran 14 times for 101 yards and two touchdowns in the first meeting with the Vikings. This season Dye has rushed for 1,275 yards and 17 touchdowns on 155 carries.

"He’s very quick, very elusive," Howard said. "He’s a great player."

White agreed: "He’s fast, he has natural speed, so we have to take away the outside."

If East Hall can do that, the final step is simply to score. Elbert County has allowed just eight points per game this season, but the Vikings have their own 1,000-yard rusher in Jamond Witt (1,083 yards and 14 touchdowns on 121 carries) and an explosive running quarterback in Cameron Davis (499 yards rushing, five touchdowns).

It won’t be easy, but for the Vikings, the key is that they’re in this game at all, with a chance to reach the state playoffs.

They secured that chance last Friday with a 34-17 win over Banks County, halting a two-game losing streak and confirming that this season has indeed been one of progress.

"We’ve gotten to choose the path we take," White said. "We could’ve gone to the left and ended the year the same way as last year, or go right and have this chance."

That’s all Dawson County (5-4, 4-1) wanted as well, to have the chance at the state playoffs.

Like the Vikings, the Tigers now have that chance in a rematch Friday with a team that blew them out earlier in the season.

Jefferson (7-2, 4-2 8-AA South) beat the Tigers 42-14 on Sept. 9 at Tiger Stadium, the same night that Elbert County was running all over East Hall.

This week’s game is once again in Dawsonville, but the Dragons, led by quarterback Bryant Shirreffs (four rushing touchdowns in last week’s 35-7 win over East Jackson) and running back Tristen Jackson (19 carries for 177 yards and a score), won’t be facing the same Dawson County team.

"Our approach has been that we are not the same team that played Jefferson on that Friday," Dawson County coach Jeff Lee said. "We have gotten better at doing the things that we can control. We do not have some of the same personnel that played that night. We feel that the changes we made have helped us get better as a team."

Led by 1,000 yard-rusher Zack Martin and dual-threat quarterback Tyler Dominy, the Tigers will try to prove that it isn’t easy to beat a team twice in a season.

Subregion 8-AA North champions Banks County, the only team from the North to beat Dawson County, won’t have to worry about defeating a team twice. The Leopards (7-2, 4-1) will be facing subregion 8-AA South champs North Oconee (9-0, 6-0) for the first time this Friday in the region championship game at Leopard Stadium in Homer.

Unlike the other region teams, both are guaranteed a spot in the state playoffs; Friday’s game will determine seeding.



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