East Hall vs. Sonoraville
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: East Hall Stadium, Gainesville
Tickets: $8, per GHSA
Read preview capsules of all area first-round playoff games here
Gainesville vs. Alexander
West Hall at Calhoun
East Hall vs. Sonoraville
North Hall at Sandy Creek
Buford vs. Fayette County
Dawson County vs. Ringgold
Jefferson vs. Pepperell
The last time East Hall hosted a playoff game, an iPod wasn’t a thing, Google was only two years old, the No. 1 song in the country was ‘With Arms Wide Open’ by Creed, and Facebook wouldn’t be created for another three years and three months.
Tonight, the Vikings (6-4) will welcome Sonoraville into East Hall Stadium, breaking a 15-year drought in the process.
“I think the kids are proud of the fact they’re doing something that hasn’t been done in a long time,” coach Bryan Gray said. “They’re having fun being around each other. They don’t let the outside things bother them. They didn’t let all the naysayers at the beginning of the year bother them.”
“It’s been a lot of hard work over these years,” Gray said. “The added excitement this year is that people considered us to be taking a step back. That really fueled our kids and they’ve shown that over the last seven weeks. This is the first time in over 20 years to go to the postseason in back-to-back years.”
With identical 6-4 regular-season records, East Hall is in the postseason for the first time in consecutive seasons since 1994-95.
Senior wide receiver/defensive back Jacquen Hopkins, who was just two years old in 2000, the last time the Vikings hosted a home playoff game, called the experience of getting the program back there “overwhelming.”
“It’s been a good feeling to finally make it to the playoffs and have a home game,” Hopkins said. “We’re not trying to get too hyped about it, but we’re glad we got a spot. It’s been a ride.”
Sophomore quarterback Austin Parker, who was born in August of that year, said making back-to-back postseason appearances was part of the plan when the team set goals before the season.
“We wanted to go back-to-back in the playoffs, we wanted to win region and send the seniors out on the right track and to make it past the first round,” Parker said.
With Sonoraville (7-3) coming to town, the Vikings have been very focused, according to Gray.
The team meets every Saturday to talk and work out. After last week’s Banks County contest, which East Hall won 35-27, the team got up for its regular meeting and Gray said they set a higher bar for this week of practice.
“I think we’ve raised the bar,” Gray said. “You have to when you get into the playoffs because the teams you’re playing are fantastic. Our kids, last Saturday, decided to raise the bar and, I feel, they’ve met that bar and passed it. They know what they have to do.”
Gray called Sonoraville an “excellent team” who would be a “No. 1 seed if they’re in any other region.” He added when you have the No. 1 team in the state (Calhoun) in your region, “it’s tough,” so he’s considering it a top team.
Gray said the Phoenix have great skill guys, including their senior quarterback Cody Long, and a quick group of running backs.
“This week is going to be a very tough task for us,” Hopkins said. “We’re definitely going to have to play very good defense for four quarters this week. We’re going to have to play four quarters of good defense and good discipline to pull out the W.”
After East Hall began the season 0-3, Parker said the team decided they had to come together if they were going to make any of their goals a reality this season.
“We had a rough first three weeks, Parker said. “We picked it up going into Pickens and Jackson, but, going into our bye week, we realized we had to do something as a team if we wanted to do something (this year).”
Since their rough start, the Vikings have gone 6-1, including a streak of five straight wins to close out the season. Their one loss in that stretch was an seven-point loss to region champion Dawson County.
In order to make that win streak happen, Hopkins said the team has come together much better than he has seen in his four years and the coaches are doing their jobs.
“I think we’re coming together a lot more in the last couple of years,” he said. “Our coaches are doing a very good job of coaching us up and getting us prepared for every Friday.”
On Thursday, the team was released early and went through their usual walk-through. After that, the entire team took in a movie and had dinner.
“We were having some team bonding,” Hopkins said. “It’s to keep us relaxed and let us know, even though we’re in the playoffs, we don’t have to be uptight about it.”
Gray said that in order to be successful tonight, the team needs to have everybody show up and play their best to advance to another week of football.
One of those they’ll be looking for is senior running back Jiel Vargas, who, according to Gray, has five consecutive games of more than 140 total yards.
Gray said the team will not be changing anything up to match up with Sonoraville, but will just take what the defense gives.
Parker put it much more simply.
“We’re just going to come out and play the best kind of ball we have offensively and defensively,” he said. “We’ve got to give it our all, because this is our last guaranteed game (of the season).”