Banks County at West Hall
When: 7:30 Friday
Where: Spartans Stadium, Oakwood
Coaches: Banks County, Biff Parson; West Hall, Tony Lotti
Records: Banks County (0-3); West Hall (2-1)
Key players: Banks County, RB/DB Wes Faulkner (5-9, 165 Sr.); WR/DB Malcolm Mitchell (5-10, 155 Jr.); FB/LB Matt Dilbeck (6-1, 210 Sr.). West Hall, RB/DB Kwon Williams (6-0, 185 So.); OL/LB Ty Statham (6-0, 200 Jr.); TE/DL Hunter Atkinson (6-6, 250 Sr.).
Outlook: West Hall is off to its best start since 2010 thanks to a ground-based attack that is churning up yards at a steady pace. In a win against Lumpkin County last week, the Spartans gained 420 yards on the ground, led by 202 from Williams. West Hall opened the season with 272 yards rushing in its win against Johnson. For 2013, West Hall has churned up 715 rushing yards (6.8 yards per carry). Williams is averaging 15.4 yards per attempt.
Tonight marks the beginning of the Region 7-AAA schedule for both schools. The Spartans are certainly talented enough to ear the program’s first postseason berth since 2002.
Banks County has struggled so far in 2013, averaging just 11 points per outing in losses to East Jackson, Athens Christian and Commerce.
Banks County made the postseason most recently in 2011, but struggled with the move up to Class AAA last season, winning just one region contest last season on the field (the Leopards were awarded a win by forfeit versus Buford after it self-reported a violation to the Georgia High School Association).
At West Hall, the rest of the season is dedicated to playing a ‘Spartan 50.’
That catch phrase is an extension of playing all 48 minutes as hard as possible, which in Region 7-AAA begins with a home game against Banks County (0-3) at Spartan Field in Oakwood. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. on Friday night.
However, the deeper and more unifying meaning is to rally around Spartans (2-1) lineman Tavezz Thurmond, who wears jersey No. 50, after he experienced a serious spinal cord injury that has not limited his mobility but is putting his chances of ever playing football again in serious doubt.
The injury manifested Sept. 1 while doing routine close-contact linemen drills in practice, only days after recording a team-high six tackles for West Hall in the season-opening win against Johnson.
After going to the ground after a play ended and complaining of intense pain, Spartans coach Tony Lotti decided to err on the side of caution and called for emergency personnel to respond.
“When it happened, he was having bad pain in the middle of his back,” Lotti said.
After spending the next few hours at Northeast Georgia Medical Center undergoing a battery of tests under the watchful eyes of medical professionals, Thurmond learned he may never play football again due to a condition that may be traced back to birth.
Even though he’s not playing now, Thurmond is still a part of the program. He’s right there on the sideline on Friday night, even calling the coin toss correctly for West Hall at midfield each of the past two games.
Lotti promises Thurmond will be right there for the coin flip in the region opener against the Leopards, who have struggled through the non-region portion of their schedule.
“This has brought our team closer, for sure,” said West Hall senior tight end Hunter Atkinson, a preseason Elite 11 selection. “We’re going to give it all we got every week.”
West Hall quarterback Zach English is not going to be lulled into looking past Banks County. He said the Spartans learned their lesson last season when they suffered a 31-8 loss in Oakwood to Fannin County, which ended up being the Rebels’ only win of the season.
“We’re going to go out and play every team like they’re the best around,” said Atkinson, who has 14 receptions and four touchdowns this season.
The Spartans (715 rushing yards, 6.8 yards per carry) have been tough to stop on the ground, which is one of the big reasons for the fast start to the season. According to English, in West Hall’s two wins the Spartans ran for more than 200 yards, while in the loss to Chestatee they were held under that mark.
“This year, we’ve gone with more of a pulling guard style on the line to match our speed, which helps us open up the passing game,” Atkinson said.
In the long run, Lotti knows running the ball well will be necessary to go toe to toe with other hard-nosed, run-first offenses like Buford, North Hall, Dawson County and White County in Region 7-AAA.
“The teams we’ll play in region run it, and run it very well,” Lotti said. “For us, all of our goals and dreams are still out there for us to achieve, and it’s up to us whether we achieve them or not.”
In West Hall’s last game, Kwon Williams ran for 202 yards in a win against Lumpkin County, while Tyquan Statham added 113 yards on four carries. English has completed 22 of 37 throws this year for 316 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
For Banks County, it’s been a slow start with losses in non-region play against East Jackson, Athens Christian and Commerce.