Vikings 33, Leopards 7
Difference maker: East Hall quarterback Devin Watson made plays in the run game to extend drives, and his 256 yards through the air and two touchdowns opened up the Vikings’ offense.
Stat that matters: The Vikings’ defense held the Leopards’ running game to 23 yards on 24 attempts.
Turning point: After going up 13-0 with 2:14 left in the first half, the Vikings’ defense was able to stop the Leopards’ offense, forcing three negative run plays and a punt. Then, after getting the ball back on the punt, the Vikings’ offense took three plays to find the end zone to open the lead at 20-0.
Who’s next: East Hall is at Buford. Banks County is home against North Hall.
Coming into Friday night’s game, the East Hall Vikings had been competitive in region play but hadn’t yet won a region game.
The Vikings were able to clear that hurdle, defeating the Banks County Leopards 33-7 at Vikings Stadium.
“It was nice to finally get those last few plays to actually win the game and not come up short ,” said East Hall coach Bryan Gray. “So we’re happy about that. Our kids played hard. We made some mistakes, but we played hard, especially on defense. We did some good things.”
The Vikings (4-4, 1-4 Region 7-AAA) were led by junior quarterback Devin Watson, who was 17-of-25 passing for 256 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 79 yards on 13 carries.
East Hall junior wide receiver Junior Lee caught three passes for 73 yards and both of Watson’s touchdowns.
Senior Milton Whelchel caught four passes for 66 yards and ran for a touchdown.
The Vikings’ defense gave the offense a huge boost by forcing four Leopard turnovers, three interceptions and one fumble.
Though the Vikings are all but out of the playoff picture, Gray said his team is still proud of its progress and looking forward to facing Buford next week.
“We’re proud of our effort. We’re proud of our fans. We had a great crowd tonight to come and cheer us,” he said. “We’re a great program, and we’re going to continue to get better.
“We’re excited. We always get excited to play Buford. It’s the best team. If you want to be good you have to play the best. We don’t care what happens. We’re going to go out there and lay it up the best we can, and do the best we can. Then, we would like to come back (home) with Fannin (County) on senior night and give these seniors a chance to go out successful.”
The Leopards (0-8, 0-5) were led by freshmen quarterback Griffin Goodwin, who passed for 214 yards and tossed one touchdown.
Wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell caught two passes for 65 yards from Griffin.
After a near stalemate first quarter, the Vikings broke through when Whelchel scored on a 9-yard run with 3:33 left in the first quarter.
After swapping interceptions, the Vikings’ offense found the end zone again when running back Edward Vergara scored on a 1-yard run to give the Vikings a 13-0 lead with 2:14 left in the half.
Vergara finished the game with 57 yards on the ground.
The Vikings didn’t stop there. Its defense forced a quick three-and-out series, stopping three straight run plays for negative yards.
When the offense hit the field, Watson ran for 10 yards, completed a 16-yard strike to Whelchel, then found Lee on a 33-yard touchdown connection to put the Vikings 20-0 lead at the half.
After a scoreless third quarter, Watson hit Lee seconds into the start of the fourth quarter on a 4-yard touchdown strike, their second of the game.
Jacques Ash scored the Vikings’ last touchdown of the game, punching it in from a yard away.
The Leopards got on the board when Goodwin connected with junior Tight End Jonathan Hunter on a 1-yard touchdown pass.
“We started a true freshmen at quarterback, and he did an outstanding job,” Banks County coach Biff Parson said. "Obviously, he threw a couple of picks (interceptions) and stuff like that, and we’ll live with that, but he’s making plays.
“We’re making progress. Obviously, that doesn’t show up in the win-loss column, but at practice and even in games, we are improving. That’s success in a coaches’ mind. ... These guys have stuck together. They are working hard. It’s a good group of kids. We have just got to continue to build, set the foundation as this first-year staff is in. The future is bright.”
East Hall is at Buford next week, while Banks County is host to North Hall.