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Vikings 54, Knights 14
Difference maker: Devin Watson; the junior threw for three touchdowns and ran for three more, finishing with 329 yards in the air and 100 yards on the ground.
Stat that matters: East Hall outgained Johnson 547 yards to 263.
Turning point: With the game tied 7-7 in the opening quarter, East Hall took a 15-7 lead on a 4-yard touchdown run from Edward Vergara. Two offensive plays later, Johnson fumbled and East Hall recovered on the Knights’ 42. The Vikings scored four plays later and led 22-7.
Who’s next: East Hall plays host to White County in the Region 7-AAA opener for both teams next Friday night; Johnson is idle on Friday and visits Chestatee Oct. 4 in Gainesville.
East Hall returned the opening kickoff 87 yards, Devin Watson threw for three scores and ran for three more and the Vikings routed the Johnson Knights 54-14 at Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium on Friday night.
The Vikings (3-1) set the tempo from the opening kickoff, and continued with their fast-paced offense and, at times, overwhelming defensive attack.
“Our kids were focused and we played hard,” East Hall coach Bryan Gray said. “We were upset about last year (a 22-21 loss to Johnson); we made some mistakes and we let it get away. Our kids responded tonight, came out and worked hard.”
Watson completed 11 of 23 passes for 329 yards and added 100 yards rushing to lead a Viking offense that racked up 547 yards on the night.
The junior right-hander threw touchdown passes of 80, 57 and 25 yards, connecting with three different receivers in the process, and ran for a pair of 1-yard touchdowns, adding a 14-yard scamper late in the second quarter.
“(Watson) is a player,” Gray said. “He has a long ways to go, to make a lot of reads. That will be impressive, but he is getting better each week.”
Watson led short and long touchdown drives, taking clear advantage of the undersized Johnson defense.
After Milton Whelchel returned the opening kickoff to give East Hall an early lead, Edward Vergara crashed into the end zone and converted the two-point conversion to give the Vikings a 15-7 advantage early in the second quarter.
Watson then led the Vikings to scores on three of their next four possessions.
Watson scored on a 1-yard run to cap off a quick four-play drive, using a pair of big passing plays to set up the score. Two drives later, Watson broke loose for a 14-yard touchdown run, giving the Vikings a 28-7 lead.
After a Johnson (1-4) punt pinned the Vikings at their own 20 with just 40 seconds remaining in the first half, Watson hit Junior Lee in stride, resulting in an 80-yard score.
The Vikings missed the extra point, but led 34-7 at the half.
“We have a few guys that can run and our O-line is doing a good job,” Gray said. “I was happy with our offense. We did some things that we were able to try, and we’ve had some success.”
The impressive performance continued into the second half for Watson. He scored his third rushing touchdown to cap the Vikings’ opening drive of the third quarter, then connected with Jordan Jackson an a 57-yard passing strike to put East Hall ahead 47-7.
Finally, with a running clock in the fourth quarter, Watson connected with Whelchel on a 25-yard receiver screen, with Whelchel running down the sideline to finish the score.
Johnson finished with 263 yards of total offense, 251 on the ground. Jesse Griggs finished with a team-high 145 yards rushing on 31 carries and a first-quarter touchdown that knotted the game at 7-7.
From there, Johnson was forced to punt four times, fumbled on two of its possessions and was held on downs on the East Hall 2-yard line before adding a late 7-yard touchdown run from quarterback Chase Sims with just over a minute remaining.
“We had a poor first series, but we kind of rebounded,” Gray said, of his defensive unit. “(Johnson) is a gritty team. They’re tough. (Griggs) is a heck of a little fullback. Sims kid at quarterback, he did a good job tonight. We had a tough time stopping some of their option stuff.”