East Hall’s matchup against Union County is likely going to be a high-scoring region game in Blairsville.
The Vikings (2-3, 0-1 Region 7-AAA) opened region play a week ago at Lumpkin County, falling in a narrow 30-27 contest. The Panthers (4-1, 0-1) also lost their region opener to Greater Atlanta Christian.
After last week’s loss, East Hall quarterback Austin Parker said the Vikings have tried to figure out how to build more leadership on the team and to get more guys to buy in.
Coach Bryan Gray said the Vikings defense took to heart last week’s loss to Lumpkin County.
“I think we took that personally,” Gray said. “Our defensive kids are locked in on improving over last week.”
This week East Hall’s defense will get a chance to improve against a high-powered Panthers offense.
Union County is averaging 39 points per game this season, including only putting up 12 points against GAC.
“They’re extremely well-coached and fundamentally sound,” Gray said. “They play very hard. They’re a darn good team.”
First-year quarterback Cole Wright is 57 of 90 through the air with 627 yards, six touchdowns and an interception. On the ground, he’s run for 560 yards for seven touchdowns.
Wright, a converted wide receiver from a year ago, is taking over for three-year starter Joseph Mancuso, who completed 58.5 percent of his passes over his time under center for 8,187 yards and 85 touchdowns.
So far, Wright is filling the hole just fine.
Part of that is having running back Bo Lynch beside him. Lynch has 64 carries for 331 yards and five touchdowns. Wright and Lynch have combined for 18 scores out of the Panthers’ backfield.
“They’ve been playing pretty well,” Union County coach Brian Allison said. “Cole Wright is a first-year starter. He’s making progress and getting better every week. Bo is a seasoned guy that has played for a few years.
“The offensive line has been playing well and opening up holes for both of them. We’ve been pleased with what we’ve done.”
For both teams, the job this week is going to be able tackle in space, something Gray said his Vikings have been working on. Allison said it’s something his group practices every week because of the style of football most teams play in the current era.
“With East Hall, they’re really talented, have a lot of speed on both sides of the ball,” Allison said. “We’ll struggle with tackling them. They have a couple of really good receivers and their quarterback is playing well right now.”
Parker was 18 of 30 for 256 yards and two touchdowns against Lumpkin County. For the season, he’s up to 61 of 120 for 1,090 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Sedrion Morse leads all Vikings receivers with 17 receptions for 411 yards and three touchdowns. Tripp Rider also has three receiving scores for the Vikings.
Parker has been able to spread the ball around, finding seven different receivers for touchdowns.
After the way the offense played early last week against Lumpkin County, Parker knows they need to get going right away.
“Effort. We have to put a lot of effort into the game,” Parker said. “We can’t come out and have a slow start. We need to come out and be physical and play the best ball we can.”
The two offenses, with the Vikings averaging just shy of 30 points per game, could put on a show and add up a lot of points.
“I can see this going down to the end. I can see high power on offense on both sides because of all the speed,” Allison said. “Those guys are well coached and they do a great job for them. It’ll be a challenge for both teams on defense.”
Senior Vikings safety Noah Dyer, who has 49 tackles on the season, said the defense has a tough task in front of it, but expects it to be able to take advantage of the Panthers putting the ball in the air.
“They do run a lot of run-pass options, so we have to be ready for both,” Dyer said. “We want to try to pick up interceptions with coverages we’re going to play this week. I feel like we’ll have a chance if we play our responsibilities.”
Still, the offenses will probably be the stars of the game.
“Both are spread, so it’s going to be a get-up-and-go game. High tempo, high scoring,” Dyer said. “It’ll come down to the fourth quarter. We’ll see who wants it most.”
Parker doesn’t want it to come down to a shootout or a late possession.
“It has potential to be a shootout, but if the defense comes out and plays good for four downs each time out, we’ll be OK,” Parker said. “It could be a shootout, but if we come out and play, it doesn’t have to be like that.”