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Game of the week: North Hall and Chestatee to battle in non-region opener

POSTED: August 29, 2013 11:47 p.m.
Jared Putnam | The Times/

North Hall running back Brannon Dyer gets set to take a handoff from quarterback Andrew Smith during practice on Thursday at the Trojans' practice field. North Hall will be looking for its eighth straight win over Chestatee tonight at The Brickyard.

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Despite seven consecutive losses to North Hall, Chestatee isn’t tired of lining up against its neighbor just seven miles up the road.

The War Eagles haven’t beaten the Trojans since 2005, but it’s not stopping them from ensuring that one of their oldest rivals is one the schedule every year. With 11 meetings between the two teams since the school opened in 2002, Chestatee has never played a season without North Hall somewhere on the schedule.

And even with a 1-10 record all-time against the Trojans, you won’t hear groans from any War Eagle when preparation for the annual meeting begins.

“I don’t believe there’s any frustration with our guys,” Chestatee coach Stan Luttrell said. “In fact, I think our guys are looking forward to the challenge of playing another good team. It just so happens to be the first game of the year and a rivalry game.”

The game is a different kind of rivalry nowadays, with the two teams now in different classifications after sharing a region from 2002-2011. Beginning last year, the loser of the game gets nothing more than a blemish in Week 1 and still carries a clean slate into region play.

On top of that, tonight’s installment features two teams that enjoyed dynamic seasons in 2012, with a combined 19-6 record.

“Both programs have a lot of momentum,” Luttrell said. “It should be a great Friday night with two programs that are coming off big seasons that happened to be rivals opening the season against each other.”

Suddenly, the rivalry has new life. Chestatee, which finished 8-3 last season and qualified for the Class AAAA state playoffs, finally enters the game with high hopes, despite a 32-20 loss to the Trojans in 2012.

Some might say the Trojans still are still a safe pick to win, having finished 11-3 last year with a trip to the Class AAA state semifinals. But coach Bob Christmas doesn’t consider Chestatee a pushover by any means.

“Their football program is probably playing the best football they’ve played right now,” Christmas said. “I watched them scrimmage East Hall, and I was thoroughly impressed with the personnel and the coaching.”

In some ways, Christmas saw a little bit of his own team in the run-oriented War Eagles, who highlighted the scrimmage with several massive plays for gaudy yardage.

Both teams enter tonight’s game with the same offensive mentality: run the ball, then run it again.

“We’re a three-back and they’re a two-back offense, so there’s a good bit of difference there,” Christmas said. “But we are both run-oriented and we both like to run the triple option. It ought to be a quick game — the clock won’t be stopping too much like it does on an incomplete pass.”

A week after Chestatee impressed Christmas with its running game, North Hall experienced the same kind of dominance on the ground in its 42-31 preseason win at Salem (Va.) last Friday. Two players ended up with more than 100 yards rushing, and two touchdowns were scored on kick returns.

More importantly, the scrimmage operated like an actual game, with scoring and all regular-season rules in place. In comparison, Chestatee’s scrimmage was not scored, and each team ran 10 plays before changing sides, regardless of their field position or number of downs.

“I liked the fact that we played game situations as opposed to a controlled scrimmage,” Christmas said. “But the fact that they had two weeks after their scrimmage is also a real positive (for Chestatee). I don’t know how you weigh that.”

Luttrell described tonight’s game as an ‘old school’ type of contest, with run-heavy offenses that prefer using physicality to eat up yards and lots of clock time.

It’s also an accurate title for a rivalry that has entertained that corner of the county for more than a decade, and doesn’t appear to be ending any time soon.

“What I hope the people see is two well-coached football teams that play very hard,” Luttrell said. “The game is going to come down to who makes the fewest mistakes, whether that’s taking care of the football or giving up big plays.”


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