West Hall (6-4) at No. 8 Troup (8-2)
Gainesville (5-5) at No. 5 Harrison (9-1)
No. 2 Buford (9-1) vs. North Springs (6-4)
Chestatee (4-6) at No. 1 Cartersville (10-0)
No. 4 Jefferson (9-1) vs. Pickens (5-5)
North Hall (6-4) at No. 3 Westminster (8-2)
No. 8 Dawson County (7-2) vs. No. 9 Lovett (7-3)
Mac Bennett wasn’t leaving the field for anything during North Hall’s 68-42 win over East Hall at the Brickyard on Oct. 28
Even with 61 points tallied on the scoreboard and a comfortable lead already established in the final quarter, Bennett, a returning All-Region and All-Area player for the Trojans, was one of many seniors on the field that evening unwilling to exit stage right.
“All the coaches were trying to pull the seniors out, and we were all fighting to put us back in there (laugh)," Bennett said.
This was the same young man who combatted two bum knees all season long in order to help the Trojans to their second-straight playoff appearance. He first tore his MCL and Meniscus during the summer months, and then sprained his left knee five games into the season.
“He had 40 CC’s of fluid drained off his ‘non-injured’ knee last week. And that’s his ‘good knee.’" North Hall coach David Bishop said on Bennett’s toughness. “But I look at Senior Night, and he was not coming off that field. He did everything he could for us offensively and defensively. Just a tough effort for a kid who has been in pain a whole season.”
“Anytime I step on the field, there’s always that feeling of ‘this could be my last play,’” said Bennett. “Some people who would have injuries like I did, would just be done with it. But I know I couldn’t do that. There’s no possible way I could ever do that.”
That pivotal win on the team’s senior night granted North Hall the No. 4 seed of the Class AAA playoffs. It puts them in a first-round matchup with No. 1 Westminster coached by Mike Muschamp this Friday night at 7:30 p.m.
Bennett is one of the unsung heroes on this squad who simply bought into a coaching philosophy that has carried the program to the playoffs in three of the last four seasons.
While the Trojans may not be equipped with a slew of superstars or depth, they do what is expected and trust the process.
That could mean asking your starting quarterback Jackson Madonna to willingly hand the ball off to Elite 11 tailback Kyle Bacus 40-50 times a game while only throwing 10. It’s demanding one of your fastest receivers like Josh Parrish to throw a block instead of scoring a touchdown.
It’s about giving up the glory for the sake of your fellow teammate. As put by Bennett, It takes 11 to make a play right.
“We all want to run the ball, and we would like to have the spotlight like Kyle does, but we know he can’t do what he does without us doing our job before he gets the ball handed to him,” He said. “We just keep that in mind. … He’s (Bacus) a very humble guy, and gives us a lot of credit. … It just all flows together.”
Bishop said Madonna especially has displayed that philosophy as another prominent figure on this Wing-T scheme traditionally designed to wear down defenses through the ground and milk the game clock. Any other quarterback in this pass-happy world would demand more according to Bishop.
“His attitude towards doing that is amazing,” said Bishop. “He’s had probably 200-250 yards of offense called back. He’s continued to do what he’s asked to do. A leader on and off the field.”
This year’s success dates back to the summer months, when the seniors set out to be one of the most, tight-knit and hard-working groups this program has ever seen. The team woke in the wee hours of the morning to run grueling 300’s (300-yard dashes) for the Men of Summer.
“The only reason we’re in the playoffs is because of our hard work,” said senior Josh Parrish, who starts in all three phases for the Trojans. “We’re not very deep, so we wanted to make an impact on the younger kids and make sure they would excel growing up.”
Parrish can attest. He went from hardly seeing the playing field at the junior varsity level as a freshman to being one of the fastest pieces as a senior. He has three catches for 25 yards and a touchdown on offense to go with his 11 total tackles on defense for the Trojans.
“This kid said ‘no I’m not only gonna play, I’m gonna start and I’m gonna show you,” Bishop said of Parrish. “Now he’s the fastest kid on our football team.”
“On offense and as a receiver, really what he is, is a glorified blocker who occasionally catches a pass. But he’s just a testimony of hard work and effort, and all the things that it takes to be successful.”
In addition to Parrish’s gradual emergence over the last three years, there are too many feel-good instances on this team for Bishop to keep track of, which has to make the third-year coach happy.
“To me, adversity and some of the things these guys do and deal with has been really amazing,” he said.
That resiliency helped the Trojans win some close calls this year. Their first four wins were by a margin of eight or fewer points, including a nail biter with Flowery Branch before their narrow overtime loss to White County.
“Coach Bishop always talks about effort,” Bennett said. “We have to give effort every single play, every game, all the time. You can tell when we get on the field, when we give that effort all the time, we’re untouchable.”