Indians 39, Trojans 14
Difference maker: Stephens County running back Chaz Thornton ran the ball a whopping 35 times for 266 yards and scored two third-quarter touchdowns to lead the Indians.
Stat that matters: North Hall fumbled the ball three times in the first half, including one on the second play of the game and one early in the second quarter as it was driving to tie the game.
Turning point: Running back Caleb Faulkner ran the ball up the gut and had the ball punched out of his hands. Stephens County recovered the fumbled and, on the first play of the ensuing drive, scored on a 49-yard touchdown pass from Dionte Mayfield to T'omas Colbert.
Who's next: North Hall will play at Monroe Area in a region play-in game on Friday; Stephens County will face Gainesville at City Park for the region championship.
In a game it needed to win to have a shot at a region championship, North Hall missed early opportunities and fell at home to Stephens County, 39-14, on Friday.
The Trojans fumbled three times in the first half, including one on the second play of the game, leading to 14 points for the Indians. It was a deficit North Hall could not overcome.
"I thought our kids played a good game," North Hall coach Bob Christmas said, "but, early in the game, we just gave them gifts."
The Trojans will play at Monroe Area in a play-in game next Friday for a chance at a state playoff berth.
"We've got to get back up, dust ourselves off and keep on going," Christmas said of the game next week. "It's not how many times you get knocked down, it's do you get back up."
After a 13-yard run by Caleb Faulkner got the action started, running back Imani Cross mishandled a handoff. The Indians recovered the football and took just four plays to score their first touchdown of the game, a 1-yard sneak by quarterback Dionte Mayfield.
A fumbled punt later in the first quarter did not lead to points for Stephens County, but the Trojans wouldn't be so lucky after a Faulkner fumble early in the second.
Down 14-7 and driving to tie the score, Faulkner lost the handle on the football as he plowed through a curtain of defenders. The Indians scooped up the ball and, on the first play of the ensuing drive, completed a 49-yard touchdown pass from Mayfield to wide receiver T'omas Colbert.
If not for the early miscues, the Trojans could have been in a much more comfortable position early and, consequently, could have given itself a chance to win late.
After the opening-drive fumble and resulting Indian touchdown, the Trojans quickly responded.
Kick returner Justin Jones took the kickoff back 78 yards to the Stephens County 11-yard line. Cross, making up for his fumble, punched the ball in on one play to tie the score.
The Trojans had a chance to take the lead later in the quarter after forcing Stephens County into a three-and-out, but they, again, fell victim to a fumble, this time on the ensuing punt.
The Indians recovered at the North Hall 10-yard line, but a strong defensive series kept them out of the end zone after a reverse on fourth down was stopped 5 yards short.
Christmas said that he was encouraged with the way his team kept pushing in the game.
"I'm very impressed with the way our kids played," he said. "I can always live with it when your kids play with all their heart, with emotion. I've been in plenty of games where we won where I had a bad taste in my mouth because our kids didn't play very hard.
"I hate it in when we lose. Not for me, but for our kids. But I feel good about it when they play the way they did tonight."
Adding to Stephens County's cause was running back Chaz Thornton, who gashed the Trojan defense for 266 yards and two touchdowns. Overall, the Trojans allowed 429 total yards, 352 on the ground.
Leading 20-7 to start the second half, Thornton put to bed any possibilities of a North Hall comeback. He ran 43 yards to the end zone on the opening drive, giving the Indians a 27-7 lead that North Hall would be unable to recover from.
North Hall was unable to get its own dynamic rushing attack going in the game. Cross and Faulkner rushed for just 65 and 71 yards, respectively. They accounted for just one touchdown run between them, an 11-yard run by Cross in the first quarter to tie the score at seven.
Despite the low total, Cross, a Tennessee recruit, did pass 1,500 rushing yards on the season, and has now scored 22 touchdowns on the ground.
While the game was out of reach, quarterback Bradley Brown showed the type of perseverance Christmas has been so happy with all year. On a play from the Indians 20-yard line, Stephens County nearly sacked Brown twice before he escaped and tossed a touchdown pass, tipping off of Eli Gilmer's hand and into the hands of Wade Phillips.
"That just showed real determination and effort from him," Christmas said. "Had a little luck on it, but it was a tremendous effort nonetheless."