High school football previews: Week 10
Things were going great for North Hall.
After a difficult three-game stretch to start the season culminated in consecutive losses on the road (at Jefferson, St. Pius X and Gainesville), the Trojans had turned their season on its head.
They had won four straight games, scoring 48 or more three times and allowing a combined 35 points during the streak.
They were undefeated in the subregion, and controlled their own playoff destiny.
And then they played Franklin County.
In 48 agonizing minutes, the four-game winning streak was snapped and the Trojans were left to regroup for their regular season finale against Stephens County, which will be played tonight at The Brickyard.
North Hall (4-4, 3-1 8-AAA North) was blown out at home, 54-37, by a hot Franklin County team that took over second in the subregion with the win.
“It was a letdown,” Trojan running back Imani Cross, who also plays linebacker, said on Thursday. “We came in and we really weren’t very focused. We faced the (triple-option offense), and those guys had a good quarterback and good running back. We just didn’t play assignment football, and there’s no excuse for that.”
The Trojans allowed 576 yards in the game, 547 of which came on the ground. Franklin County running back Shaun Pulliam gashed the Trojan defense for 338 yards and three touchdowns.
Despite the team’s on-field struggles, North Hall coach Bob Christmas took the blame for the loss.
“I think it was as much coaching as anything,” he said. “I think we failed to make some adjustments that we should have made. We also didn’t play like we’re capable of. We didn’t have the passion or emotion that you need to win games. You couple those two things together, and it kind of made for a disastrous combination.”
The loss was just the latest setback in a season, Christmas said, that has, at times, been frustrating.
Owner of a .500 record, Christmas said he thinks his team has had the ability to be a playoff contender all year, but that injuries have kept it from playing at full strength in every game this season.
“We’ve had starters out in every game we’ve played this year,” he said. “We’ll be without three starters again on Friday.”
Running back Zac Little, free safety Andrew Smith and offensive/defensive lineman David Epps will all be out with concussions.
And yet, through all the ups and downs, the team still has an outside shot at winning the subregion.
With a win, Stephens County (7-1, 4-0) takes the subregion championship, securing a region championship game against the South division champs, Gainesville.
If the Trojans can sneak a win, however, the standings could become a bit more unclear.
Wins by North Hall and Franklin County, which plays at White County tonight, would create a three-way tie in the subregion. The tie-breaker would compare the non-subregion winning percentages of the three schools, which would leave North Hall the odd team out. A North Hall win and a Franklin County loss, however, would push the Trojans to first place in the subregion.
It’s a tall order, but Christmas hasn’t ruled out the possibility.
“I think we can beat these guys,” he said. “They’re a great team, but I really believe, if we go out and play a great game from start to finish, we have the ability to win this game.”
He added that, while focused on his own game, he thinks White County is a good enough team to pull off the upset against Franklin County as well.
“That gives us even more incentive to play well in this game,” he said.
Cross said that, while they are trying to focus on Stephens County, everyone has considered the scenarios in which they can win the subregion.
“Everyone knows what needs to happen,” he said. “I want to say we’re not thinking about it, but it’s there.”
Winning the game itself, however, will be difficult enough.
Stephens County has won seven consecutive games, its only loss of the season coming in a one-point thriller against 8-0 Elbert County. The Indians are led by a dynamic running back, Chaz Thornton, who Christmas said may be the best back in North Georgia, which is strong praise considering he has Cross in his backfield.
“I think that guy they’ve got is as good as anybody,” he said.
Defending him will be the primary mission for North Hall tonight. Even if they are successful, however, Christmas noted that he is the type of runner that is a threat to score on every play.
“You can do everything right, but he can still find a way to take it to the house, it seems like,” he said. “We have to eliminate the big plays.”
Senior defensive back Wade Phillips said that the defense has focused on swarming to the football to prepare for the shifty Thornton.
“We’re working on our intensity and swarming to the ball,” he said. “We know they have a really good running back, so we’ve all just got to be crazy out there — tackle, fly to the ball.
“We went out there overconfident last week, I think, and they outplayed us. We’re not going to let that happen this week.”