Banks County at North Hall
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: The Brickyard
In Bob Christmas’ 12th year on the Trojan sidelines, North Hall is looking like North Hall again by changing what made them North Hall in the first place.
An explanation is probably warranted.
Christmas became the most successful coach in Trojans history by employing a wing-T offense that was as dependable as the sunrise for more than a decade. North Hall, which had never won more than seven games in a season before Christmas’ arrival in 2001, has won at least that many eight times since, including a trip to the state semifinals in 2007.
Last week, the Trojans clinched their fifth playoff berth in the last seven years and can claim the fourth region title in school history on Friday with a win over Banks County (3-5, 2-3 Region 7-AAA).
But their success this season has been driven by a slightly different offensive engine.
After North Hall missed the playoffs the last two seasons, the wing-T is out. The wishbone is in.
“I thought about (switching to the wishbone) back in ’06 and ’07, but we were being so successful, I thought I would’ve been foolish to change it,” Christmas said.
Last spring, feeling that the offense that had brought the Trojans so much success had gotten “a little stale,” Christmas decided to make the change.
“I had run (the wishbone) before and I really liked it, in fact, I ran it for about 15 years,” he said. “Then when you couple that together with that we knew we were going to have a big, athletic offensive line, I just felt like the timing was right.”
The numbers back him up.
Despite the shift in formation, the Trojans (7-1, 5-0) remain a run-focused offense. In fact, this year’s team is looking remarkably similar to the 2007 team that bulldozed its way to a 13-1 record and a Georgia Dome appearance. The misdirection is still there, the backfield depth is back, and so are the gaudy stats.
In 2007, North Hall scored 51.1 points per game in the regular season with four players who averaged at least 40 rushing yards per game and five who averaged at least 6 yards per carry.
This season, the Trojans might be even deeper. Through eight games, five backs average at least 48 rushing yards per game, and the seven who see the majority of the playing time all average at least 5 yards per carry.
“I guess the first thing that is probably the most notable to everyone is we’ve got a ton of contributors on offense,” Christmas said. “You can’t point to a standout. Early on everybody was talking about (T.J.) Tate, and then everybody was talking (Kevin) Christmas, and then everybody was talking about the two quarterbacks (Bradley Brown and Andrew Smith), and now everybody’s talking about Zac Little.”
The one thing they all have in common is the offensive line they run behind. Tackles Matt Pratte and Justin Bacus, guards Thomas Marchman and Patrick Chappell and center Avery Easton form one of North Hall’s biggest offensive lines in recent memory, averaging almost 6-foot-2 and 260 pounds.
Combined with 220-pound tight ends Taylor Ryder and Eric Gonter, they’ve paved the way for an offense that’s averaging an area-best 383 rushing yards per game and scoring 52 points per contest in region play.
And though they might be overshadowed by the offensive production, the defense has done its part, as well. Opposing offenses are averaging just 3 yards per carry and less than 200 yards of total offense per game against the Trojans.
“Our defense has just been playing lights out. Just phenomenal,” Christmas said. “Our defense is giving our offense more opportunities because of all the three-and-outs. And when that offense gets more opportunities, of course you put more points up.”
This week the focus is on defeating Banks County and wrapping up the region title, and Christmas warns that North Hall can’t overlook the Leopards because “anybody can beat anybody.”
But the regular-season finale against Buford looms large for the Trojans. The third-ranked Wolves were widely considered the region favorites before a Georgia High School Association decision forced them to forfeit two games for using an academically ineligible player.
Christmas said North Hall is motivated to close the regular season strong and earn the region championship on the field.
“This is just a good bunch and they want to get better every game,” Christmas said of his team. “That’s kind of their focus against Banks County. Of course, they know — I’ve told them and they read the paper and they know that if we win this we’re region champs. But in the back of their mind, I think they’re thinking we want to win and get better. We want to play Buford and beat Buford so there’s no talk about ‘you might have won it on paper, but you didn’t win it outright.’”