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Game of the Week: Gainesville at North Hall
Gainesville High’s Shad Petree works out along with the Red Elephants’s receiving corps as they prepare for Friday night’s game at North Hall.

Holloway: This rivalry has exactly what it needs

Football Previews: Week 4

Gainesville at North Hall

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: The Brickyard

TV, radio:
WSB (live), Charter channels 18 and 23 (tape delayed); 102.9 FM, 550-AM, 1330-AM

Coaches: Gainesville, Bruce Miller; North Hall, Bob Christmas

Records: Gainesville (1-1, 0-0 Region 8B-AAA); North Hall (1-1, 0-0 Region 8A-AAA)

Key players: Gainesville, LB A.J. Johnson (6-3, 235 Sr.), QB Deshaun Watson (6-1, 170 Fr.), DT Thomas Niles (6-2, 265 Sr.). North Hall, QB Kanler Coker (6-4, 195 Jr.), WR C.J. Curry (6-2, 190 Sr.), OL Chase Strickland (6-0, 195 Sr.).

Prediction: GAINESVILLE. The Red Elephants might not roll like they’ve done the past two years, but their dynamic offensive will be too much for North Hall.

For as long as the series between Gainesville and North Hall has been in existence, the week leading up to the game has been filled with hype, pranks and good, old-fashioned trash talk.

But for some reason, all is quiet on the rivalry front.

“The last couple of years going into this game, most people thought we had the better team,” Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said of why there hasn’t been much hype prior to tonight’s game. “This year, it’s kind of up for grabs.”

That’s because this year, neither team has really been overwhelmingly dominant. The Trojans and Red Elephants both have a 1-1 record and both have suffered crushing losses — Gainesville lost 40-19 to Buford in the season opener and North Hall lost 49-8 to St. Pius X last week.

“This is a time when we both have a loss, and that’s usually not the case,” North Hall coach Bob Christmas said. “It’s also a time when neither of us are in the top 10, which also usually isn’t the case.

“Nonetheless, it’s a couple of good football teams in a huge rivalry,” he added. “I don’t think there’s a bigger one in the state.”

Apparently the media thinks so too, as three television stations, three radio stations and a slew of reporters will be covering tonight’s game at The Brickyard. Everyone’s there to see a rivalry, but what will they actually see on the field?

“We got unprovens on both teams,” Christmas said. “As I look at film, Gainesville has some great players this year, they’re just not proven. They don’t have the same big, proven players like they had last year and that’s the same for us.”

Which could be a good thing for the competitiveness of the game itself.

With stars like Blake Sims and Tai-ler Jones and a defense considered one of the state’s best, the Red Elephants rolled over the Trojans the past two years by a combined score of 82-12. Prior to that, North Hall dominated Gainesville in 2007 and won 41-22. In fact, these two teams have played only two games decided by seven points or less since 2002.

“Just looking at the records and looking at what everyone’s doing, there’s really not a clear favorite this year,” said Miller, who is 6-2 against North Hall. “It’s a lot more even this year. They have talent at certain positions and we have talent at certain positions.”

They both also have unanswered questions.

North Hall struggled mightily against St. Pius’ rushing attack last week, allowing the Golden Lions to gain 455 yards on the ground, including 253 by junior quarterback T.J. Holloman.

Gainesville struggled to put away White County two weeks ago and needed to use senior linebacker A.J. Johnson as a run-only quarterback to secure the 31-22 win.

“They still have athletes all over the field,” Christmas said of Gainesville. “When they get in the wildcat with Johnson, that’s a tough situation.”

So is defending North Hall’s wing-T attack, which Miller and the coaching staff have prepared for since 2002 and got a firsthand look at this year’s version last Friday during Gainesville’s bye week.

“It gave us a chance to see them and really think about what we want to do,” Miller said. “St. Pius is totally different than what we do offensively, so we didn’t get much from that. Our defensive coaches might have picked up a little bit, but not really.”

Which is a good thing because Christmas doesn’t expect the same type of performance from his young Trojans.

“Young players play inconsistently,” Christmas said. “I think it’s gonna come down to which team executes the best and has the best fundamentals and schemes.”

Miller also thinks in simple terms when discussing the keys to victory.

“It’s gonna be a battle at the line of scrimmage,” he said. “I say that every game and I mean it because the game is gonna be won up front. I’m anxious to see how we do when we line up and play.”

Miller knows all the players involved are anxious too.

“If they’re not ready for this one, then there’s something wrong,” he said. “It’s a rivalry, anything can happen.”

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