Lumpkin County ready for big test against Monroe Area
Week 4: High school football previews
North Hall at Gainesville
When: 7:30 Friday
Where: Bobby Gruhn Field
Radio: 1240 AM, 1330 AM
Coaches: North Hall, Bob Christmas; Gainesville, Bruce Miller
Records: North Hall (0-2, 0-0 8-AAA North), Gainesville (1-1, 0-0 8-AAA South)
Key players: Gainesville, QB Deshaun Watson (6-2, 185 So.), WR Keyontra Harrison (5-8, 150 Jr.), WR Stephen Mason (6-0, 160 Sr.). North Hall, RB/LB Imani Cross (6-2, 230 Sr.), OL/DL Cam Howell (5-8, 215 Sr.), OL/DL Alan Kattelman (5-11, 200 Sr.).
Prediction: GAINESVILLE. The Red Elephants’ fast-tempo offense will be too much for the Trojans to slow down.
Even though local bragging rights are always on the table when Gainesville and North Hall play, this year's game has a bit of a different tone.
Both teams are simply looking for a win Friday night at Bobby Gruhn Field to build momentum heading into the critical subregion portion of the schedule.
"This is always a good game every year, regardless of records," North Hall senior running back/defensive back Eli Gilmer said.
"When we play each other, you can throw the records out the window," Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said. "Even though it's early in the season and we don't have much of a record yet."
Both the Red Elephants (1-1, 0-0 8-AAA South) and Trojans (0-2, 0-0 8-AAA North) have been hit with some tough losses this season, but neither has dropped a game that will impact their region title hopes or playoff dreams.
North Hall has lost to highly talented non-region opponents Jefferson and St. Pius X (both 3-0) to open the season.
After tonight, the Trojans have just a game against Walnut Grove remaining before the subregion portion opens against an improved Chestatee team (2-0, 0-0) on Sept. 30 at The Brickyard. Trojans coach Bob Christmas is still of the belief that this will be a successful season, but a win tonight will go a long way to making that reality.
"You always hear that losing brings out the worst in you, but I feel like it's brought out the best in our team," North Hall coach Bob Christmas said. "I really like the work ethic of our team, togetherness and just being around this team is a lot of fun."
Gainesville had a bye week to prepare for the game.
Miller says that having two weeks to prepare for a game, especially one with so much build-up, can produce a lull or make the team even that much more sharp.
It's impossible to tell which way it will go beforehand, but the Red Elephants coach said that after last year's bye his team came out more on the sluggish side against the Trojans.
Some doubted that Gainesville was going to be in the running for its fourth straight region title after a season-opening shutout loss to Class AA's top-ranked Buford.
But the Red Elephants immediately bounced back with a 40-3 win against White County two weeks ago at City Park.
Now, Gainesville is looking to keep the momentum going with a win over its biggest rival. Gainesville and North Hall have been the only two schools to win their regions' title since 2002.
A win in this game may just give one the upper hand in continuing that trend.
"The way we started the season, it's just about gaining some momentum," Miller said. "A win makes everyone feel better on Saturday morning."
Miller said that he'll be going with two tailbacks against North Hall. Rayshon Thomas, who missed the White County game with injury, and Jay Gaudlock, who filled in, will split the carries, according to Miller.
"To be effective, we have to be able to run the ball," Miller said.
Also, Red Elephants quarterback Deshaun Watson, a sophomore, continues to develop his game-management skills and ability to read defenses.
In his last game, he threw for 249 yards and helped the team roll up 469 yards of offense. Gainesville's entire no-huddle offense is predicated on getting in as many offensive plays as possible.
"Deshaun is seeing things better and better," Miller said. "He's spreading the ball around and really understands what's going on out there."
Meanwhile, the Trojans have their own big-play threat with senior running back Imani Cross, who already has 347 yards (7.4 yards a carry) and five touchdowns through two games.
Christmas says that the depth of his offensive line is a big strength with about eight players that are game-ready up front, but the unit still hasn't reached its full potential.
After an 0-2 start, Gilmer says that tonight's game against Gainesville falls under the category of a must-win to get North Hall's season back on track.
The Trojans know that the sledding doesn't get any easier in the North subregion with games against a stout Stephens County (2-1), Lumpkin County (2-0), and the War Eagles (2-0) all still ahead.
"I'd like for us to win our next eight," Christmas said. "I know it will be tough to do, but I'm optimistic.
"We'll have to play great every time we go out there."