East Hall coach Bryan Gray didn’t seem worried entering Friday night’s rivalry game against Johnson with an 0-2 record — and he never needed to be.
Junior quarterback Austin Parker threw for a career-high four touchdowns, and the Vikings coasted to their first win of the season in a 47-21 rout of Johnson on Friday night at East Hall Stadium.
The Vikings (1-2) immediately rushed out of their postgame huddle to raise their helmets to a boisterous home crowd in celebration of snapping a two-game skid and capturing their fourth consecutive win over their county rivals. It also increased their win total to 16 in all-time series since 1958.
“(Coach Gray) pushes us to just not get down on ourselves,” Parker said. “So in my past three years of football, we started out 0-3 and 0-4. So really just getting down to it, it’s just looking up higher. We can’t get any lower.”
The Vikings only punted once during their first eight offensive possessions, and Parker (11 of 12, 216 yards) was a big part of that success, completing passes to six different receivers — including touchdowns to Amir Ellison (9), Sedrion Morse (29) and Cambren Harrison (32) — before the Vikings biggest completion of the game with 1:07 left in the half.
Parker capped the Vikings’ scoring frenzy with a 59-yard touchdown connection to lead target Markese Jackson (five catches, 99 yards, TD). Jackson found some separation up the middle and Parker found him in stride on a deep throw for the Vikings’ final score.
“It was great to see,” Gray said of his quarterback. “He’s been hurt and just trying to get his rhythm going, and to see him come out and have some success is really exciting. Just a wonderful, great kid. I really expect him to take it to another level from now on.”
Gray wanted to see his team get some continuity going after a slow start to the season, and got it on both sides of the ball during the first half. The Vikings’ offense, led by Parker, racked up 342 yards of total offense. The defense put the Vikings in contention for their sixth score with a fumble recovery at Johnson’s 31-yard line, and yielded a run-heavy Johnson unit led by Cody Long (seven carries, 21 yards, TD) and Fernando Ruiz (28 yards) to under 100 yards.
Johnson quarterback Sam Corbett failed to build on his three-touchdown performance from a week prior. He managed just three completions, with one resulting in the final score, a 62-yard touchdown pass to Qua Butler with 1:35 left in the game. Corbett added 41 yards on 13 carries for the Knights on the ground.
“They’re an excellent run team and we challenged our kids,” Gray said. “We said ‘Listen, their quarterback’s a heck of a player. We better wrap up and really set a hard line,’ and I thought our kids did that. They came out, they took the challenge, and they competed, and we’re very excited we got a chance to get a win against a really good, extremely well-coached team.”
Deon Ellison (four carries, 39 yards, TD), Andrew Randall (three carries, 15 yards, TD), and Cambren Harrison (three carries, 37 yards, TD) also added scores for a Vikings’ running game that tallied 119 yards in the first half.
The Vikings’ success on special teams carried over from last year’s game to give Johnson fits early on, and put their offense on the path towards early success. A blocked punt by Giezi Barrientos just two minutes into the game put the East Hall offense inside the Knights’ 10-yard line, setting up a touchdown connection between Parker and Amir Ellison (9) for the first score of the game at the 10:07 mark.
And following a successful onside kick attempt, a 28-yard scramble by Parker brought the Vikings inside Johnson’s 15-yard line. Randall (three carries, 15 yards) punched in the Vikings’ second score from 13 yards less than a minute later.
“They did a great job at the beginning,” Parker said of the group. “They gave us great field position. ... They made up for a lot of yardage we left on the field.”
The Knights finally found the scoreboard on a Corbett option pitch to Kylan Curry for a 9-yard score at the 7:27 mark of the third quarter. The score came five plays after Colin McClure recovered a fumble at the Vikings’ 30-yard line.
A Vikings’ fumbled snap on fourth-and-20 at the start of the fourth quarter set up Johnson’s second score, as Long found the end zone on a 7-yard rush up the middle five plays later.
East Hall (1-2) has Jackson County next for another home matchup. Johnson (0-4) plays Flowery Branch on Sept. 23 after a bye week.