In a seesaw game in which both teams amassed 828 total yards of offense, it took a last-second defensive stand for the North Hall Trojans to defeat the Chestatee War Eagles, 35-28 Friday night at The Brickyard in the season opener for both teams.
The win was the 14th for the Trojans in 15 all-time meetings.
Last year’s All-Region defensive end Mac Bennett tackled Chestatee quarterback Storm Yarbrough at the Trojans’ 38-yard line on the last play of the game to seal the victory. It came after a drive in which Yarbrough sped through the Trojans’ defense for 20 yards on a fourth-and-19 play at midfield.
Five plays later, the game ended on Bennett’s tackle-for-loss on a fourth-and-long after two holding penalties.
The game was a matchup of North Hall’s old school Wing-T offense under fourth year head coach David Bishop versus the new school spread under Chestatee first year head coach Shaun Conley.
The Trojans rushed for 366 yards on 55 carries behind Kyle Bacus’ 199 yards on 33 bone-crushing carries for two touchdowns. Cutter Sanford added 76 yards on four attempts.
Chestatee was led by running back Nick Lyles, who had 188 yards on 19 carries with two touchdowns, including an amazing 97-yard run after he should have been tackled for a safety to open up the scoring early in the first quarter.
Lyles also scored a 66-yard touchdown on a screen down the left sideline that brought the War Eagles to within the final 35-28 with just under four minutes remaining.
Trailing 21-7 to start the second half, Chestatee scored on a 44-yard pass down the middle from Yarbrough to Baylee Camp on a deep post to make the score 21-13 after a missed extra point. Camp had two receptions for 87 yards.
Chestatee’s passing game was hit-or-miss most of the game. Yarbrough didn’t complete his first pass until two minutes were remaining in the first half. For the game, he completed 8-of-20 for 164 yards.
In a second half in which each team would match the other score-for-score, the Trojans extended their lead to 35-21 to open the fourth on a Bacus 8-yard score. That came after Lyles rushed for a 4-yard TD on a nine-play drive that brought the War Eagles to within 28-21 late in the third.
On the Trojans’ scoring drive, quarterback Jackson Madonna ran for 33 yards on a called pass play. Madonna passed for 30 yards on 6-of-11 completions.
The game was a typical sloppy first game with penalties and turnovers by both teams, including Bacus fumbling the ball away with North Hall looking to put the game away late in the fourth. Yarbrough hit Lyles on a 66-yard screen to pull Chestatee to within the final 35-28 score with just under four minutes remaining in the game.
After having to punt with a minute and a half remaining, the War Eagles weren’t able to score on their final drive despite a 44-yard pass to Camp that put them at midfield with just under a minute remaining.
The first half started off with a bang after a quick three-and-out by both teams as Lyles scored on his 97-yarder for a 7-0 lead. After another North Hall punt, defensive back Daniel Jackson got things going for the Trojans with an interception and nice return, putting his offense on Chestatee’s 18-yard line.
Seven plays later, Madonna hit Josh Parrish for a 5-yard TD off a boot leg on third-and-goal with a minute remaining in the first quarter. Bacus began the second quarter with a 43-yard scamper right up the gut for a 14-7 lead.
While so many teams are going to the pass-first spread, the Trojans stick to the old reliable Wing-T, in which there are so many nuances for a defense to handle: inside counters and traps, quarterback keepers and play-action passing.
“We’re an ‘if-then’ offense,” Bishop said. “If they do this, then we do that. They (assistant coaches) did a good job of getting me info on the sideline so we could continue getting the 4- and 5-yard runs that make this offense go.”
Those tough inside runs set up both of Madonna’s scores via play action, the first the aforementioned 5-yard strike to Parrish. The second a 25 yard pitch-and-catch to Maddox Turner on third-and-5 with 3:06 remaining in the first half to give the Trojans a 21-7 halftime lead.
Minus two Lyles runs which accounted for 125 rushing yards, the War Eagles would have only had 22 yards of total offense in the first half. Solid defensive play by North Hall in the first half set up its the offense with great field position as three of the Trojans’ drives started inside Chestatee territory. That would be reversed in the second half as a fumbled snap on a punt attempt and Bacus’s fumble put Chestatee in North Hall territory on two of its second-half scoring drives.
In a game in which North Hall was favored to win handily, Bishop was just happy his team overcame its mistakes.
“A good season needs adversity and you need to be able to overcome it and I was proud of our kids for doing just that,” he said.
Conley meanwhile was happy with his team’s effort, but isn’t satisfied with moral victories.
“I’m proud of our team but we’re not there yet and to be honest with you we didn’t come up here to play close,” he said. “We came to get the win but we came up a bit short. We’ll get back to it on Sunday and get ready for next week’s opponent.”
North Hall travels to Flowery Branch next Friday while Chestatee plays at East Hall.