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East Hall heads to playoffs after 35-21 win over Banks County
Vikings get over 5-5 hump, open postseason Friday at Hart County
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East Hall outlasted Banks County in a thrilling 35-21 win on Friday at East Hall Stadium to lock up a No. 3 seed for the state playoffs from Region 7-AAA.

After three consecutive 5-5 seasons, the Vikings (6-4, 4-2 region) got over the hump and into the postseason.

East Hall will open the playoffs against Hart County (9-1), the Region 8-AAA runner-up, Friday in Hartwell.

“We’re excited,” East Hall coach Bryan Gray said. “We played a disciplined, well-coached team and our kids performed. It was a do-or-die situation and our kids showed a lot of intestinal fortitude and came out and competed tonight.”

Banks County (5-5, 2-4) came into the game in fourth place in the region, but the loss ended its playoff hopes.

“We didn’t play well enough to win,” Banks coach Biff Parson said. “All we can do is keep pushing this program in the right direction. We took a big step going from 0-10 to 5-5 and now we have to continue that and get in the playoffs next year.”

After a scoreless first quarter, Banks County scored first on a 6-yard touchdown run from Trevae Cain to go up 7-0.

With the score tied 7-7 late in the first half, the Vikings faced a fourth-and-4 from the 10-yard line. Quarterback Devin Watson scrambled and calmly found Jacquen Hopkins in the back of the end zone to give East Hall a 13-7 lead going into the half.

The pair had so much fun the first time, they decided to do it again on the opening drive of the second half. Watson rolled to his right near midfield and saw Hopkins literally doing jumping-jacks 40 yards downfield. He connected with his wide-open receiver for a 44-yard touchdown pass.

“We settled down and got the jitters out of us,” Gray said. “Our guys realized Banks County is one of the top teams in our region and we have to play every down or we weren’t going to be successful.”

Banks County’s ensuing drive was interesting to say the least. Cain punched in his second touchdown as the Leopards drove 73 yards in eight plays while chewing up nearly five minutes of game clock. East Hall committed three personal fouls on the drive, including two from the sideline, while the Leopards committed three holding penalties.

The Leopards made things interesting to open the fourth quarter when Watson’s pass was intercepted by Malcolm Mitchell and returned 49 yards for a touchdown to cut the Vikings’ lead to 28-21.

But that was as close as it got. East Hall put the final nail in the coffin when Watson connected with Hopkins on a third-and-goal from the 18-yard line to put the Vikings up two scores.

All three of Hopkins catches went for touchdowns as he finished the game with 72 receiving yards.

“Every year I’ve been here we’ve finished 5-5,” Watson said. “This is our first time being above average. We just have to get our mentality back and remember who we’re playing for.”

Watson did his part for the Vikings, racking up 117 yards rushing and a touchdown on 19 carries. He also added 192 yards on 14-of-19 passing with three touchdowns and an interception.

Now the Vikings can direct their attention toward the playoffs.

“I think we’ll be ready for whoever we have to play,” Hopkins said. “This game helped us a lot going into the playoffs to give us confidence that we can keep going forward.”

“We don’t know who we’re playing,” Gray said. “It could be the Seattle Seahawks, we don’t care. We’re going to go play and have fun.”

“We just have to get ready the same way we get ready for every game,” Watson said. “But the playoffs will take it to the next level.”

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