In an ugly game in which East Hall and Johnson combined for 12 fumbles — six lost — it was the dazzling play of Vikings running back and return specialist Jamond Witt that made everything pretty for his team in the end as the Vikings hung on for a 28-21 win Friday night a East Hall Stadium.
Witt rushed for 145 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries and returned a punt 90 yards for another score — all in the first half to give East Hall to a 21-0 lead — leading the Vikings (1-1) to their first win of the season in the non-region contest.
"It was a crazy game that just kept going back and forth," said Witt, a junior. "Both teams played good, I ain't gonna lie."
Cedric Harris' 45-yard scoring run with 9:33 left in the fourth cut the Vikings' lead to 28-21, and two plays into the Vikings' next possession, they fumbled and gave Johnson (0-2) the ball on the East Hall 36 with 8:40 remaining.
But four plays later, the Knights fumbled the ball right back on East Hall's 25 and they never got any closer.
"We fought back and the intensity was great," said Harris, who rushed for 107 yards, including scoring runs of 42 and 45 yards. "We've learned a lot from this game. We're a young team, but that's no excuse. We fought hard at the end, but we're a team that needs to get it going in the first two (quarters).
"We had more fumbles than I can count."
With 51.5 seconds remainin in the first half and East Hall leading by three scores, Johnson reached the Vikings' 42-yard line and went for it on fourth and 7. That's when Harris broke his first touchdown run of 42 yards to cut the score to 21-7 at halftime.
Austen Mahaffey broke a 31-yard touchdown run to start the second half, giving the Vikings a 28-7 lead.
After that, the game got ugly.
Johnson's next possession ended on a fumble at the Vikings' 3. Then East Hall, after three plays and two penalties, fumbled the ball back to Johnson. Johnson then threw an interception, again on the Vikings' 3. The Vikings fumbled the ball back on the very next play.
With the ball on the Vikings' 2, Johnson quarterback Luke Gilleland, who led the Knights with 110 rushing yards, scored on a keeper to cut East Hall's lead to 28-14 with 1:43 left in the third.
The Knights forced a three-and-out on the Vikings' next possession and used a six-play drive lasting just over two minutes to pull within a touchdown on Harris' 45-yard run.
The Vikings' next possession ended in another fumble, giving Johnson the ball on the East Hall 36 with 8:40 left in the game and a chance to tie the score.
"Our biggest challenge is ourselves," Vikings coach Bryan Gray said. "When we get confidence, we can play with anybody, but if we let our mental focus slip a little, and let the immaturity of our sophomores and freshman come in, we start to fumble and struggle."
The Knights' third lost fumble of the game allowed East Hall to melt the clock in the run game.
"We get nice drives going and just fumble the ball," Knights coach Paul Friel said. "Obviously, they did too, but we had too many fumbles and gave up too many big plays."
Johnson plays host to Chestatee, while Elbert County will visit East Hall next Friday.