North Hall at Jefferson
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Memorial Stadium, Jefferson
Coaches: North Hall, Bob Christmas; Jefferson, Ben Hall
Records: North Hall (2-0), Jefferson (2-0)
Key players: North Hall, QB Andrew Smith (5-7, 150 Sr.); OL/DL Thomas Marchman (6-4, 260 Sr.); RB/DB Will Cape (5-10, 180 Sr.). Jefferson, RB Tristen Jackson (5-8, 195 Sr.); QB Evan Shirreffs (6-4, 175 Jr.); FS Austin Mixon (6-2, 180 Sr.)
Jefferson coach Ben Hall doesn’t know exactly when the Dragons caught the fire that led them to their Class AA state championship last year, but he has a feeling it happened somewhere around their game against North Hall.
Still reeling from a 22-7 loss to arch-rival Commerce two weeks prior to their visit to The Brickyard, Jefferson overcame a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter to stun the Trojans 27-21 and get back on its feet just in time for region play.
The Dragons didn’t lose again.
“We didn’t execute the first couple of games last year,” said Hall, who was Jefferson’s offensive coordinator last season. “The second half of the North Hall game, we generated momentum. That led us into our region schedule, and we had success in the region. We were fairly young in a lot of places — we had a lot of juniors and sophomores playing as first-year starters. It took a couple of games to get those guys up to speed.”
The early-season, non-region series has seen its glamour grow from year to year. The 2013 installment is no exception.
Decorated with state rankings in their respective classifications and unprecedented state playoff runs capping their 2012 campaigns, the two unbeaten teams are fine-tuning their lineups in preparation for more long-term postseason activity this season. As a result, the game is not being low-balled by either side despite being a contest with no region implications.
“Every game is important — we’re not going to boost it over another,” Hall said. “It’s the most important game because it’s the next one for us. You want to win that, and then we start into region play.”
For Jefferson, it could be the perfect time to battle a perennial force in Class AAA, just as it was a year ago.
The Dragons enter the game having outscored their first two opponents — both 2012 playoff teams — by a combined 89-0. They rolled past Jackson County 49-0 a week ago after avenging last year’s lone loss to Commerce with a 40-0 rout.
Their multiple-scheme offense pocked with zone-read plays and hurry-up snaps has created fits for defenders this season. It’ll take a special kind of defense to slow it down, but Hall says that very well could be North Hall.
The Trojans limited Johnson to 169 yards of offense in last Friday’s 63-6 win. They contained a typically strong offensive team in Chestatee to 235 yards two weeks ago.
“Defensively, they’ve been pretty stingy,” Hall said. “The first two games they’ve been solid on that side of the ball. We’re going to have our hands full. We’re going to have to execute and try to establish the run early, and focus on our read cues and focus on their skill players.”
North Hall coach Bob Christmas can relate to Hall in anticipating a defensive battle between two teams known typically for producing heavy yardage.
“They’ve shut out both of their opponents and we’ve given up two touchdowns in one game and one in the other,” Christmas said. “I’m not sure how it’s going to end up, to be honest, but they have a pretty high-powered offense. Hopefully we can slow them down a little bit and put some points on the board ourselves.”
Last season, Jefferson made sure to keep North Hall runners at bay by stacking the box with eight-man fronts against the Trojans’ wishbone offense that relies on a physical, up-the-middle running game.
The Dragons have already faced a run-based team in Commerce, but the Tigers utilized a double-slot option scheme that spreads out the offense and frees up running room from sideline to sideline.
“North Hall is a two-tight end wishbone with a lot more misdirection,” Hall said. “A lot of people call the double-slot the wishbone, but it’s not. North Hall is bigger and has more power, and Commerce is more read-option and spread you that way.”
Christmas says the fate of his team’s production will depend on the performance of the offensive line, an area he’s seen improvement during practice this week.
He wasn’t pleased with North Hall’s blocking ability up front until the second half of last Friday’s game against Johnson, when the Trojans exploded for four touchdowns in the third quarter.
“That might have been a turning point for our offensive line, because now they’re clicking and they’re looking pretty good right now,” Christmas said. “We only have one kid on the offensive line that played in the same position last year. They’re starting to mature now, and I think things are coming together.”
Friday's game serves as the final non-region game of the season for both teams, meaning that it acts as a final tune-up before they begin their official bids for the playoffs.
That in itself continues to make the matchup one that both coaches mark on their calendars year after year.
“I like playing quality opponents, and they are definitely that,” Christmas said. “I feel good about the fact that we have a very quality football team prior to region play.”