Vikings 34, Leopards 17
Difference maker: Jamond Witt ran 25 times for 135 yards and two touchdowns, and added a late interception on defense for East Hall.
Stat that matters: No turnovers for East Hall after giving it up six times a week ago in a 49-7 loss to Dawson County.
Turning point: East Hall secured the win with a fourth-quarter touchdown drive that took just under seven minutes off the clock and put the Vikings back up by two scores at 28-17 with 2:42 remaining in the game.
Who's next: East Hall will travel to subregion 8-AA South No. 2 seed Elbert County on Friday in a region play-in game. Banks County hosts North Oconee in the region championship game.
East Hall didn't want to be Union County cheerleaders.
The Vikings would be assured of the No. 3 spot in Region 8-AA North and a spot in a play-in game, regardless of how they played Friday if the Panthers defeated Fannin County.
"If we were going to have a chance to play in the playoff game we were going to earn it," said East Hall coach Bryan Gray.
The Vikings earned their spot with a 34-17 win over North subregion champs Banks County Friday at East Hall stadium under a cold rain.
The No. 3 team from the North will play 8-AA South No. 2 Elbert County.
On senior night it was East Hall senior Jamond Witt who led the way with two touchdowns and 135 yards rushing on 25 carries. Off that, 122 yards and both touchdowns came in the first half as the Vikings ran out to a 21-10 lead.
East Hall sophomore quarterback Cameron Davis spurred the offense with two more scores in the second half and 111 yards rushing overall.
The Vikings (5-4, 3-2 8-AA North) ground out 286 yards rushing to Banks County's (7-2, 4-1) 222.
Senior running back Dean Ewing led Banks County with 144 yards rushing and a score on 24 carries. Quarterback Tyler Hubbard added a touchdown on 60 yards rushing, along with 56 yards on 3-of-9 passing with an interception.
The Leopards will host 8-AA South champs North Oconee in the region championship game on Nov. 4. North Oconee beat Elbert County 17-6 Friday night in the de facto 8-AA South title game.
"This is a big deal for our program," Leopards coach Phillip Jones said.
And Friday's win over Banks County was a big deal for the Vikings, who halted a two-game losing streak just in time.
"When our kids relax, have fun and play, we're a dang good team," Gray said. "It's all we ask for - we just wanted a shot at state."
The Vikings saw that possibility to play a meaningful game next week clearly in the fourth quarter Friday, ahead 21-17 with 9:26 remaining in the game.
All East Hall had to do was do what the Vikings do best: Run the ball and burn the clock.
With an 11-play, 54-yard drive, the home team wound the clock down to the 2:42 mark and capped it off with a 6-yard touchdown run by Davis.
"It was a huge drive," Gray said. "It decided the game."
If Banks County still had any shot at all, Witt ended it on the Leopards first play of the following drive, picking off a pass from wide receiver Brenton Ruark on a trick play.
Davis ran it in again on East Hall's first play from 29 yards out.
"We play better against better teams," Witt said. "If we play like we did tonight next week, we're going to make the playoffs."
All the Vikings had to do was stick to the running game and hold on to the ball.
East Hall displayed that early in the game.
After falling behind 10-0 to Banks County early, the Vikings scored three consecutive touchdowns to take a 21-10 lead at the half.
Banks County, which scored on its first possession of the game on a 56-yard run by Hubbard and went up 10-0 on the next possession with a 22-yard field goal by senior Ermain Corona, finished the half with a pair of punts, a lost fumble and an interception on the final four drives of the half.
The Vikings did fumble twice in the first half but recovered both on the way to three first-half touchdowns. In the two previous games, both losses, East Hall scored just seven points total in the first half.
It looked like Friday night's game would go the way of the last two early, as the Leopards pounded their way downfield on their first two scoring drives.
But East Hall put the ball in the hands of the star senior running back, and Witt delivered, running six times on the Vikings second drive of the game, finished off by a 29-yard touchdown run.
After a Banks County punt, Witt ran 59 yards for a touchdown and a 14-10 Vikings lead with 9:59 left in the second quarter on just the second play of the drive.
On East Hall's final scoring drive of the half it was Davis who provided the big play, a 45-yard run down the sideline to set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Edward Vergara five plays later.
Banks County had already locked up the North the week prior after a win over Fannin County. East Hall went in needing either a win or a Fannin County loss to Union County to clinch the No. 3 seed and a berth in a 8-AA play-in game on Nov. 4. Union County did wind up winning 30-15 over Fannin County.
East Hall's season had been a roller coaster ride entering Friday's game, albeit a somewhat consistent one. The Vikings opened 2-0, lost the next two, won the first two subregion games and then lost the next two to even their overall record at 4-4, 2-2 in 8-AA North.