East Hall at Lumpkin County
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: The Burial Grounds, Dahlonega
Records: East Hall (2-2); Lumpkin County (1-2)
Athleticism is on the mind of first-year Lumpkin County head coach Shane Williamson as his Indians prepare to host East Hall to begin Region 7-AAA play today at The Burial Grounds in Dahlonega.
“We hope we’re going to be able to be competitive with them,” Williamson said. “They’re very athletic. I don’t know many of these teams up here, but I know good players and they have a lot of them.”
Lumpkin County (1-2) is looking to snap a two-game losing streak as the visiting Vikings (2-2) are trying to extend their win streak to three.
This game for both teams, according to their coaches, will be big in the grand scheme of things, but neither is considering it a make-or-break contest.
“This game isn’t a win-at-all-costs game. It’s not a mandatory win,” Williamson said. “It’s the start to what I call the real season. Any win you can pick up in region is going to be huge this year.”
East Hall coach Bryan Gray said the game is important because it’s a region game, but it’s also important because it’s just the next game on the schedule.
The series between the two goes all the way back to 1962, and the Vikings hold a 21-6-1 lead when they meet up.
The differences between the teams should be easy to spot, as Lumpkin County will line up in a wishbone set and favor zone reads, options and quarterback keepers over the passing game. But don’t overlook the Indians throwing the ball.
The Vikings will try to spread the field and get it to their playmakers, which are abundant, according to Williamson.
“East Hall may be the most athletic team in the region, and that’s including (Greater Atlanta Christian) in that,” Williamson said. “They have a lot of team speed, and it’s going to be a huge task for us on Friday night.”
For the Vikings, things begin with quarterback Austin Parker.
Parker is 42 of 88 this season for 837 yards and 10 scores. Even more impressive is Parker has found seven different receivers for touchdowns.
His top target this season has been junior Sedrion Morse, who is in his first season playing football for the Vikings. Morse has caught 15 passes for 390 yards and three touchdowns.
Last year’s leading receiver Markese Jackson has 13 receptions for 149 yards and one score.
“What’s happening is Sedrion didn’t play last year, so he was kind of an unknown,” Gray said. “People know Markese, so they’ve been doubling him to try to limit his playmaking. Sedrion is filling that in for us. He’s seeing a lot of single coverage, and Austin is doing a great job of taking advantage of that.”
Williamson singled out Jackson as one of the top guys his team will have to be aware of at all times, but he knows if they dedicate too much to the passing game and covering downfield, the Indians will get beat on the run game.
Vikings running back Deon Ellison has been able to amass 234 yards on 28 carries — good enough for an average of 8.35 yards per carry — and five touchdowns.
“(Ellison) has improved his ability to catch the ball over the offseason, and now he’s an every-down back,” Gray said. “Last week, (Jackson County) was trying to key in on the pass, and he was able to score four touchdowns and rush for 140 yards or so. He also had an interception and a sack. Still, the best thing he did all night was his blocking.”
The Indians have a few playmakers on their side of the ball, as well.
“I see a tough, disciplined team that plays well for four quarters. They’re on the brink of being pretty dominant. And I see one of the best running backs in North Georgia with (Zach) Matthews,” Gray said.
As the primary running back, Matthews has gone over the 100-yard mark in each game so far for Lumpkin County, including a 17-carry, 146-yard performance a week ago against Chestatee.
“There’s no doubt he’s a Division-I football player,” Gray said. “He’s big and strong, so he can be a bowling ball. But he’s got the speed to move in space. He’s been doing it year after year. He’s a very bright talent and looks like he has a bright future in football to me. He’s one heck of a football player.”
Fellow running back Cole White and and quarterback Chandler Woodham each finished the Chestatee game with over 100 yards, as well.
“They’re a pretty darn good team,” Gray said. “They’ve lost a couple of close ones here or there, but I imagine they’ll be heavy in the playoff hunt in week nine or 10.”
Gray won’t have his guys just keying in on Matthews, though. Woodham can beat you with his legs, as well, and according to East Hall’s coach, the Indians’ offensive line is “a talented group.”
“They’re not the biggest guys, but they get off the ball,” Gray said. “They’re one of the most efficient and effective offenses we’ll see by far. They don’t make mistakes, and they’re going to wait until you make a mistake in trying to stop what they’re doing and take great advantage of it.”
Williamson said a big key to the game for Lumpkin County will be controlling the pace of the game by shortening the game with its offense to limit East Hall’s possessions.
The biggest thing for the Indians will be the mental aspect.
“We cannot make mental errors. That’s something we have complete control over,” Williamson said. “We can be perfect on that part of it. Alignment and assignment . If we can line up right and know what we’re supposed to do, that’s over half of it.”
For East Hall, it’s all about the little things. But some of the mental game, too.
“We’re going to have to eliminate all of our penalties and get better at that and tackle a lot better,” Gray said. “We’ve got to eliminate the mental errors and give ourselves a chance to be successful. Whatever happens after that, happens after that.
“We’re going to a tough place to play against a really tough team, and our kids are excited.”