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Trojans hang on, move on in playoffs, 13-9

Peach County up next as North Hall reaches AAA quarterfinal

POSTED: November 23, 2012 11:20 p.m.

North Hall’s Andrew Smith made three huge first quarter plays in Friday’s second-round playoff game against Morgan County. The Trojans (10-2) would need them all as they survived a gritty effort from the Bulldogs to earn a 13-9 victory at The Brickyard. 

With the win, North Hall faces Peach County on Friday in the Class AAA state quarterfinals in Gainesville. Peach County defeated Pierce County in its second round game 45-13 in Blackshear.

After jumping to a 13-0 lead in the first quarter, North Hall’s defense did enough to slow a solid ground-based Morgan County offense (209 yards total offense) and kept two failed fourth-down attempts inside the Bulldogs’ 10 in the second half from being costly. 

“These are the kinds of wins you can build off of when you have to scrap and claw to pull out the victory,” said Smith, who scored both of the Trojans’ touchdowns.

With the win, North Hall has qualified for the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2007, the same season it marched on to the state semifinals. 

“It feels wonderful to know we’re now going to be playing in the state quarterfinals,” North Hall coach Bob Christmas said. “This is just a high-character bunch of kids on this team.”

The Trojans are now in the state quarterfinals for the fourth time in school history and all since 2004 on Christmas’ watch as coach. 

Smith’s three big plays came in rapid order in the opening quarter.

Smith scored first for North Hall with a reverse of field when receiving a punt midway through the opening quarter, then went untouched 55 yards for the touchdown. 

On Morgan County’s next drive, defensive back Smith was there to intercept a Trent Hawk pass at the Bulldogs’ 45. Three plays later, it was Smith who scampered in again untouched on a 41-yard touchdown carry.

“Andrew played a phenomenal game for us tonight,” Christmas said. 

However, Friday’s win against Morgan County (9-3) was in question until the very end. The Bulldogs battled hard on defense and limited the Trojans’ usually potent wishbone-based run game to just 201 rushing yards and 239 total yards of offense. North Hall only had 10 first downs on the night.

“This was the kind of game where we had a lead, squandered it and had to fight for our lives to come away with the win,” Christmas said. “Making it to the third round of the playoffs with this team is a privilege.”

The final points of the game were on Morgan County kicker Campbell Harrison’s 50-yard field goal as time expired in the first half.

Morgan County first punched it in on a Marquise Benton touchdown run from the 3 early in the second quarter. The Bulldogs’ 9 second-quarter points, along with the fact that North Hall was held without a first down in the second quarter, switched the momentum heading into the second half. 

North Hall strung together two long drives that both came up empty in the second half, both after a missed run attempt on a fourth-and-short and inside the Morgan County 10.

North Hall’s first drive of the second half went 14 plays and 78 yards, before senior quarterback Bradley Brown was hit for a short loss on fourth and goal at the 2. T.J. Tate helped the Trojans march downfield, first with a 24-yard gain on third-and-short, then a 14-yard gain on third-and-long later in the drive. 

Tate (15 carries, 98 yards) also hauled in a pass that went for a 28-yard gain on the drive that took 6:38 off the clock.

Then starting late in the third quarter, North Hall went on a 63-yard drive that again ended when a fourth-down run attempt failed deep in Bulldogs territory. Tate again had the longest play of the drive with a run that picked up 22 early in the fourth quarter. 

Christmas said the decision for the Trojans’ offense to go for the touchdown instead of trying a field goal attempt on those two drives was due to their effectiveness in those situations during the regular season.

Morgan County would have two cracks at taking the lead in the final quarter. On the first drive, the Bulldogs’ drive stalled with failed pass attempts on both third-and-5, then again on fourth-and-5. Morgan took control at its own 31 in the final minute, but stalled after a first-down pass was completed to Melvin Davis for a gain of 11 on the first play of the drive. 

Benton was Morgan County’s leader on offense with 12 carries for 61 yards.

With the win, North Hall will face Peach County for the first time in school history. Morgan County’s season is now complete.

THE BLITZ: Morgan County at North Hall

High school football highlights from Friday, Nov. 23, 2012: Morgan County at North Hall.

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