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East Hall hoping to gain momentum by opening season a week early

POSTED: August 26, 2008 5:01 a.m.
Tom Reed/The Times

East Hall coach Greg Baloga calls a play during an East Hall workout in preparation for the Vikings' first game of the season at Murray County tonight

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If people should, as Benjamin Franklin once said, jump as quickly at opportunities as they do conclusions, then East Hall coach Bryan Gray is his living example.

In an effort to accommodate the Aug. 30 college game between Clemson and Alabama, the Georgia Dome moved the annual U.S. Army Corky Kell Classic up to today.

The Classic pits eight of the best Class AAAAA teams in the state against each other.

The fact that these games aren’t scrimmages created a loophole that six opportunistic coaches in the state, including Gray, jumped through.

If any prep teams play, all prep teams should be able to play.

Thus, East Hall travels to Murray County tonight to take on the Indians.

“Coach Gray brought it up to me and I liked the idea,” Murray County coach Josh Lowe said. “He had checked with the GHSA (Georgia High School Association) and they said it would be legal (to play) as long as we were off (Aug.) 29.”

For Gray, having a week off before the Vikings opened up with region opponent White County on Sept. 5 even more justified.

“With our young team, we wanted to have an extra week to make corrections before we open up region play,” Gray said.
The resonating question, however, is why Murray County?

The answer is relatively simple — the Indians are big and can run the ball.

“We struggled against the run last year,” Gray said. “We wanted to take one of the best run teams and see what we can do.”

Murray County has, what Gray describes as a “tough, saavy quarterback (junior Austin White) who wants to run the ball down your throat and big, hard nosed kids.”

The Indians are also returning starting running back Jacob Bajer and have, what starting offensive tackle Cory Pritchett describes as “the biggest offensive line we’ve had in years.”

While all that might be the case, the Indians also come into tonight’s game with only one returning starter on defense and five on offense off a 2007 team that averaged just over three points per game.

“We are playing a lot of sophomores,” said Lowe of his team who is winless in 20 games. “It’s up in the air what we can do successfully.”

According to Lowe, the Indians had a hard time moving the ball in a 10-0 loss to Gilmer in their preseason scrimmage.

East Hall beat the Bobcats 29-17 in the final game of the 2007 season.

“We are in great physical condition, but don’t have raw team speed,” he said.

That fact in and of itself could bode well for East Hall.

“Our athletic ability will be our strength (tonight),” Gray said. “We have a definite speed advantage on the perimeter especially at the skill positions.”

Sophomore Harrison Dale will make the start at quarterback for the Vikings. Xavier Robinson and Marcellous Moon will lead a running back corp that can go five deep.

According to Gray, the physicality and speed of his receivers (Kiante Young, Andrew Ivester and tight ends Chaz Cheeks and Sterling Bailey) will go a long way in springing their running game.

As will an offensive line manned by seniors, notably offensive guard and senior Christian Romero.

“Our lineman have an experience that was lacking last year,” Gray said, “and a few of them now have a mean streak that will make for good blocking.”

The speed advantage should also work to East Hall’s advantage on defense, especially against Murray County’s option offense.

The success of the option, especially with a team that likes to run the ball, hinges on being able to get on the perimeter.

With East Hall’s linebackers (Robinson, Jerry Rodriguez, Corey Richardson, Young and Cody Davidson) being what Gray considers the team’s main strength, the Indians could again have a tough time moving the ball.

For all intents and purposes, however, tonight’s out-of-region game will not just be an opportunity for two relatively young teams to see where they are but, rather, where they need to go.

“This is a chance for us to try things out,” Lowe said, “against an extremely speedy and well-coached East Hall team.

“It should be a good ball game.”



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