Trojans 35, Spartans 21
Difference maker: Trojans senior quarterback Andrew Smith rushed for three second half touchdowns and 129 yards on the night.
Stat that matters: North Hall averaged 7.2 yards per carry and finished with 366 rushing yards against a stout West Hall defense.
Turning point: Leading 28-21 with 1:11 left in the game, Smith took it in for a 36-yard score on a third-and-3 play to seal the victory.
Who’s next: North Hall visits Banks County in Homer; West Hall hosts White County in Oakwood on Friday.
As tough and physical as Friday’s game for North Hall was against West Hall, it was the speed and breakaway ability of Trojans senior quarterback Andrew Smith that put the game away with a long touchdown run late in the fourth quarter at The Brickyard.
After trading big plays and fighting for yardage for much of the night, Smith ran it in from 36 yards out late in the fourth quarter to secure the critical 35-21 region victory in Gainesville.
“We knew that playing West Hall was going to be a challenge and they showed that they have a very talented football team,” Trojans coach Bob Christmas said.
The win was also calming for North Hall (7-1, 4-1 Region 7-AAA) after it stumbled in a loss at White County just seven days prior.
With the win, North Hall remains in the race for a top two seed to the playoffs and home game to open the postseason. Next up, the Trojans visit winless Banks County (0-8, 0-5) on Friday in Homer.
Despite the tough loss, West Hall (5-3, 3-2) didn’t stop battling until the very end. For most of the night, every time North Hall punched it into the end zone, the Spartans were able to answer.
Smith scored on run plays three times in the second half, but after each of the first two scores, West Hall came right back down and scored on a touchdown catch by senior tight end/wide receiver Hunter Atkinson.
Atkinson’s first touchdown was on an 11-yard throw from West Hall quarterback Zach English with only 1:32 left in the third quarter. English threw the ball up high in the front of the end zone, and Atkinson used all of his 6-foot-5 frame and great vertical jump to go high in the air for the catch and brought it down for the score surrounded by defenders.
Then in the fourth quarter — after Smith scored for North Hall on a run from the 10 — Atkinson hauled in a pass and ripped free from a Trojans defender and went in for a 39-yard score with 4:47 left in the game, cutting North Hall’s lead to 28-21.
“(Atkinson) is such a big kid and we had a guy right on him all night,” Christmas said. “He’s got phenomenal concentration and great hands to go up and get the ball.”
But with the game still in question late in the fourth quarter, Smith stepped up with the kind of clutch play he’s delivered his entire career. On third-and-3 at the 36, Smith kept the ball on a designed play as West Hall defended for a run between the tackles, and he immediately went to his right and untouched 36 yards for the score.
“That was a great call by our coaches,” said Smith. “I didn’t expect that I’d have that much room to run.”
Smith’s first touchdown came on a 2-yard run in early in the third quarter; he broke loose from a defender who had a hand on his jersey in the backfield before running in for the score. The Trojans’ quarterback scored his second touchdown on a run from the 10, three plays after keeping the drive alive with a 29-yard throw to Nolan Tucker on third and 12.
Smith finished with a team-high 129 rushing yards, part of a 366-yard rushing night for the Trojans. Zac Little was second for North Hall in rushing with 16 carries for 83 yards.
Destin Bennett scored for North Hall on a run from the 4 midway through the first quarter. Then Tucker punched it in on a run from the 5 late in the period to retake a 14-7 advantage.
Despite North Hall’s effectiveness running the ball, West Hall never ceased to move the ball well.
The Spartans answered the Trojans’ first touchdown on Antonio Pittman’s touchdown run from the 8.
Led by English’s 66 yards, West Hall finished with 225 rushing yards. Atkinson had all four of West Hall’s pass receptions for 76 yards.
On Friday, the Spartans play host to White County (6-2, 4-1) in Oakwood.