Gainesville vs. Alexander
North Hall at Sandy Creek
No. 3 Buford vs. Fayette County
Dawson County vs. Ringgold
East Hall vs. Sonoraville
West Hall at No. 1 Calhoun
Jefferson vs. Pepperell
From those summer team meetings, North Hall’s Corben Davis could tell something special was brewing with the football program.
Players gathered in the football meeting room at the field house, slowly and methodically coming up with a reasonable set of goals for 2015, after struggling through a disappointing 2-8 season last year.
Davis, a starting defensive lineman and the long snapper, can proudly say the Trojans (6-4) accomplished the most important of those handful of goals: make it back to the playoffs.
“They’re seeing all their hard work coming to fruition,” said second-year Trojans coach David Bishop.
On Friday, North Hall opens against ninth-ranked Sandy Creek (8-2) in the first round of the Class AAAA bracket in Fayette County.
The Trojans are aiming for their first road playoff victory in school history.
The foundation of what the Trojans do well hasn’t changed a lot since the string of successful programs under former coach Bob Christmas. North Hall is going to run the ball and do its best to squeeze as much time off the clock.
Time of possession is especially important for the Trojans against a program like Sandy Creek, which put up point totals consistently in the 40s. The Fighting Patriots have a two-back system and young quarterback with a good arm who put up most of the yards.
With a year of varsity playing experience together under their belts, the Trojans moved the ball much better this season, totalling 2,167 rushing yards and passing for 710.
“We’ve seen a lot film on Sandy Creek, know they have very good players,” Trojans senior Sam Jackson said. “It’s a game that is going to come down to who wants it more.”
Jackson, a do-it-all player, said the tone for those summer meetings among players was set by Bishop around the time of spring football last year. Knowing the program could go sharply in one of two very different directions off a 2-8 season, Bishop told players to “commit or quit.”
From the realization that Bishop was serious to bring back North Hall football to prominence, Jackson and Davis were two of the older players who knew they wanted to make their senior season special.
They set out to accomplish goals within reason, keeping in mind the Trojans play in the same Region 8-AAAA with a three-time defending state champion Buford.
Davis said one goal was to finish at least 5-5. North Hall finished one better than that with a 30-13 win against White County to wrap up the regular season in Cleveland.
Then, they wanted to beat the county rivals on the schedule: West Hall and region rival Chestatee.
The Trojans beat the Spartans 24-10 early in the regular season, building momentum for the region schedule, and topped the War Eagles by 20 points toward the end of the season.
The other win made a priority by Davis and Jackson, both North Hall captains, was to beat White County. Davis said that was important after losing two straight to the rivals from just up the road in Cleveland.
Even though those wins were a good feeling for the program to show things were improving, Bishop felt one of their biggest learning lessons came in a hard-fought 14-13 loss against Stephens County during the region opener in Gainesville.
The Trojans head coach, who has been on the football staff for more than a decade now, could tell the players’ confidence level went up afterward. The players knew it was a statement to be able to hang with an Indians program, many may have felt like they could keeping it close against.
Jackson feels like North Hall would have won against Stephens County, had it gone in believing it could win.
Now in the playoffs, Davis wants to leave the program in the shape it was in when he was a freshman in 2012.
That group, helmed by versatile quarterback Andrew Smith, who now plays at Air Force, made it to the state semifinals.
It would mean the world for them to shock people again, pulling an upset of mighty Sandy Creek on its own field.
“We have to go in there believing we can win,” said Davis.