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Game of the Week: North Hall hosts Chestatee in subregion opener
North Hall’s Imani Cross tries to run the ball against a swarming Red Elephant defense during their loss on September 16 at Bobby Gruhn Field. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times

East Hall Vikings start subregion schedule

High school football previews: Week 6

Chestatee at North Hall

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: The Brickyard

Radio: 102.9-FM

Coaches: Chestatee, Stan Luttrell; North Hall, Bob Christmas

Records: Chestatee (3-1, 0-0 8-AAA North), North Hall (1-3, 0-0 8-AAA North)

Key players: Chestatee, QB Jordan Degraff (6-2, 170 Jr.), DE Garrett Bennett (5-10, 205 Sr.), LB Kyle Perry (5-10, 210 Jr.). North Hall, RB/LB Imani Cross (6-2, 230 Sr.), QB/OLB Bradley Brown (6-1, 190 Jr.), OG/DE Cam Howell (5-8, 215 Sr.).

Prediction: NORTH HALL. This team is better than 1-3, and we’ll see that tonight.

It was a tale of two seasons over the first few weeks for Chestatee and North Hall.

Through three games, the teams sat at 3-0 and 0-3, respectively, opposite sides of the spectrum in the standings and the public eye, alike.

And while the results were flipped a week ago (North Hall picked up its first win over Walnut Grove; Chestatee fell at Monroe Area), both the War Eagles and Trojans enter tonight’s game with the same mindset: the season starts today.

“I won’t say the other games didn’t matter,” North Hall coach Bob Christmas said. “They did. But this is our first subregion game, and we need to look at it like our season starts today. We need to do all the right things from this point forward.”

Chestatee coach Stan Luttrell offered the same mentality.

“This game is important for several reasons,” he said. “One, because it’s a subregion game; two, because of the potential playoff implications; and three, because it’s North Hall.”

The teams’ rivalry goes back nine years when Chestatee High was established as a result of high enrollment at North Hall. In those years, the War Eagles have met the Trojans for nine games, losing eight, including five in a row since 2006.

Despite Chestatee’s lack of success in the past, its strong start indicates a potential changing of the guard in the rivalry.

The team has been led on offense by first-year starting quarterback Jordan Degraff. The junior, a dual-threat under center, has run for 260 yards and seven scores to go with his 589 yards and seven touchdowns passing. In four games, he has tossed just two interceptions.

“He’s continuing to get better and understand his role in the offense better every week,” Luttrell said of Degraff. “Jordan is a good distributor of the football, whether it’s on the option or whether we’re throwing the ball.

“It’s exciting for me to watch him mature into that role.”

The young quarterback has caught the eye of the North Hall coaches as well.

“That quarterback has been very impressive throwing the ball,” Christmas said. “If you load up too much on the run, he’s shown that he can be a very good passer. I think he really runs their offense well, and he runs the football well, too. I’m very impressed with the kid.”

The task for the Trojans becomes finding a way to stop him.

In their first three games of the season, all losses, the Trojans faced similar quarterbacks in Jefferson’s Bryant Shirreffs, St. Pius X quarterback Trey White and Gainesville’s Deshaun Watson.

The results were always the same — all losses due to impressive performances by the opposing quarterbacks and an inability for the Trojans to make tackles.

“We didn’t tackle well,” Christmas said. “That’s really been our Achilles heel so far. We haven’t tackled well, and we haven’t been getting good breaks on the ball. We really just haven’t played very good defense, but I think we’re making a lot of strides on that side of the ball.”

How they handle Degraff will be a measuring stick of the Trojans’ progress.

Senior offensive and defensive lineman John Mancin said he thinks the team will rise to the challenge.

“I think we’ll do a lot better,” he said. “We’ve improved light years from the St. Pius game. We’ve just got to hit (Degraff) in the mouth early and make him uncomfortable running the ball.”

Wade Phillips, a defensive back, agreed.

“We’ve got to have intensity on D,” he said. “We’ve got to fly to the ball and tackle a lot better.”

That may be easier said than done.

“I think we’re getting better,” Christmas said. “Now we just have to do it in the game.”

On the opposite sideline, Chestatee’s main goal on defense — which Luttrell has praised early in the season — will be slowing down North Hall’s big ball carrier, Imani Cross.

Cross is second in the area in rushing with 681 yards and 10 touchdowns in his four games.

And while Christmas likes the ability quarterback Bradley Brown has shown, the majority of the offense still goes through Cross.

But Luttrell cautions against focusing too much on one member of the Trojan offense.

“Imani plays a specific roll in North Hall’s offense,” he said. “One thing we can’t do, though, is just focus on Imani. There are other guys that are very good on that team that we have to watch out for.”

Like North Hall, it will, obviously, come down to how they perform between the lines tonight.

“It’s going to be a very emotional game,” Luttrell said, “so we’ve got to keep things in control. It still comes down to blocking, tackling and executing on game day.”


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