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Game of the Week: Crosstown rivals East Hall, Johnson to battle for first win
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Johnson quarterback Sam Corbett (8), hands off to running back Cody Long (26) in a game against West Hall on Aug. 26 in Oakwood.

Week 4 game capsules

Johnson coach Jason Roquemore emphasized the importance of playing with a sense of passion in practice all week.

Despite staring at an 0-3 start, the Knights feel good about the game plan, and a chance to find the win column for the first time this season when they meet East Hall for a crosstown showdown at 7:30 p.m. Friday at East Hall Stadium.

“Coach Roq’s mentioned it this past week we need passion and the determination, and the love for the game. It’s a great opportunity to show off (that),” said Johnson senior linebacker Fernando Ruiz (24 tackles, four TFL) of the rivalry.

As for East Hall, it has been down this road before.

For the third consecutive season, the Vikings find themselves in small hole with an 0-2 start. But Coach Bryan Gray isn’t worried. After all, the Vikings managed to flip the switch at 0-3 last season to win six-of-seven and sneak into the playoffs.

“We always seem to start in a little hole the last couple of years, and we’ve managed to turn it on, get it together and make the playoffs,” Gray said.

Johnson has won 22 of the 37 meetings since 1958 according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association, but are currently on a three-game slump against the Vikings.

Despite giving up 183 rushing yards in the first half, the Vikings defense tightened up its screws in the most pivotal moments against the Knights last year. The special teams especially came through as well, pinning the Knights inside their own 20-yard-line on multiple occasions throughout the game in the 24-14 win.

“It always comes down to the last few minutes.” Gray said of the rivalry. “Johnson plays their best game, our kids play our best game. They’ve all grown up with each other, and especially over the last five years coach Roquemore has done a phenomenal job over there. His kids always come well prepared.”

With only 12 miles of separation between both schools, for some players to include Ruiz, this rivalry dates all the way back to middle school. Ruiz has lined up against East Hall since the seventh grade.

“Ever since middle school, you know, they’ve been a very a high-paced offense,” Ruiz added. “They’ve got some athletes on the team we really have to keep an eye on, and it’s our senior year. It adds a lot of pressure on us.”

Roquemore mentioned they’ll have to find a way to play through the echo of the whistle against a talented group of receivers to include Markese Jackson, who had seven receptions for 119 yards against the Knights last year.

“Anytime we have matched up in the past, their athleticism and their speed of play is a big concern,” Roquemore said. “They have several athletes that can getcha on the big play. The quarterback (Austin Parker) does a great job at extending the play.”

Parker orchestrated three scoring drives during the first half of the previous contest, and fired the go-ahead score right before intermission. Parker was flushed out of the pocket on a fourth-and-6, but extended the play long enough to connect with Jacquen Hopkins for a 29-yard touchdown.

“He’s really good in the pocket, makes plays with his feet and keeps his eyes down field to make plays when they need it,” said senior fullback and linebacker Cody Long. “We have a great game plan this week dialed up. I’m pretty excited to see how we do with this. Gameplan wise, we’re set really good. It’s just we gotta go out and perform as players now.”

“It’s just one of those things that it don’t take much for those guys to really be a factor in the game,’ Roquemore added.

“That’s just gonna be our purpose. .. to make them earn what they can get without having the mishaps of the big plays and the momentum swings.”

The Knights have also brought balance to the spread the last two games to take any added pressure off a run game led by Long and Ruiz. Knights quarterback Sam Corbett threw for 198 yards and three touchdowns, while the backfield led by Long added 189 yards on the ground in a 54-35 loss to Banks County last week. Now it’s just a matter of maintaining that balance.

“We are where we are because we haven’t been able to be consistent in all three phases,” Roquemore said of the 0-3 start. “That’s what it’s going to take to beat a good East Hall football team. All three phases, we’re gonna have to compliment one another, and that’s the type of football we’re gonna have to play to be successful.”

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