North Hall at Chestatee
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: War Eagles Stadium, Gainesville
Coaches: North Hall, David Bishop; Chestatee, Bill Forman
Records: North Hall (1-7, 1-4 Region 8-AAAA); Chestatee (1-7, 0-5)
Key players: North Hall, QB Drew Atha (5-11, 175 Jr.); RB/LB Austin Perry (6-4, 220 Sr.); OL/DL Hayden Hughes (6-2, 230 Sr.). Chestatee, RB/LB Tray Bryant (6-2, 210 Sr.); RB/LB Kris Pierce (5-8, 210 Sr.); WR/DE A.J. Sijiye (6-2, 195 Sr.).
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Chestatee coach Bill Forman hasn’t had to break out any motivational speeches or bribery tactics to make sure his team is ready to play Friday. This is the week the War Eagles get a crack at its greatest foe, North Hall.
Although both programs have struggled to a 1-7 mark this season, it’s no great secret the War Eagles could make their season much more satisfying with a win against the Trojans, who are 1-4 in Region 8-AAAA play. Even though the War Eagles are 0-5 in region and already eliminated from playoff contention, as is North Hall, Forman has two big goals for his players to attain.
The biggest of those goals for Chestatee is to beat North Hall.
Forman, in his first year as head coach at Chestatee, knows his senior class has been never been on the winning end of a game against North Hall. The War Eagles hope to change that tonight at War Eagles Stadium. The rivalry between these two schools — Chestatee branched out from North Hall’s district when it opened in the fall of 2002 — has not lessened in the least bit. Many of the players grew up around one another. Some are even related.
The fact that Chestatee and North Hall are both struggling through a season plagued by injuries and mistakes might just make the drive for a win in this intense rivalry game that much more important.
“Everyone remembers the score of last year’s game in this rivalry,” Forman said. “Anyone not ready to play in this one better check their pilot light.”
North Hall coach David Bishop said playing such a well-established county rival is refreshing after a year where region realignment has forced so many new rivalries.
“This is a good thing for us,” Bishop said. “Let’s face it, with so many new teams on our schedule, this is the first familiar face we’ve seen since early in the season since Jefferson.”
Even at 1-7, Chestatee and North Hall have both had flashes of success this season. North Hall is coming off a season-high 485-yard rushing night in a 38-35 win against Monroe Area. Chestatee led by a pair of touchdowns twice against White County before three costly turnovers led to touchdowns for the Warriors’ defense in a 50-28 loss at White County.
War Eagles seniors are also enthused about it being Senior Night, their final chance to win a game with their friends they grew up with, in front of the home fans.
“This is a big deal for us as seniors,” said War Eagles lineman Cody Kenimer. “Not only is it the North Hall game but it’s also our last home game together.”
Chestatee’s other big goal still on the horizon is that its seniors are looking for their first win as players against Monroe Area. The War Eagles wrap up the regular season against the Purple Hurricanes on Nov. 7 in Monroe.
Still, the War Eagles are going to admit playing against North Hall is a far bigger deal for the two fan bases and student populations who live so close together. North Hall holds an 11-1 edge in the rivalry that includes games every season since 2002.
Chestatee’s only win in the series was a 17-10 victory in 2005.
War Eagles’ senior A.J. Sijiye says that the North Hall game is the one they look for first to see when it falls on the schedule every year.
“We’ve been pretty hyped for this game all week,” said Sijiye. “Getting a win against North Hall would mean a lot for us.”
A losing season is something new for both Chestatee and North Hall. Both made the playoffs in 2012 and 2013. The Trojans made the Class AAA state semifinals in 2012, while Chestatee is coming off its first playoff win in school history last season.
The string of injuries for Chestatee started early when standout lineman Matthew Pruitt went down with a season-ending injury in its scrimmage against East Hall. Since then, Forman said the War Eagles have had six players go down with injuries, including senior Keith McClure (labrum) and junior Garrett Brader (ankle).
“I wish they would have given us a group rate on MRIs,” said Forman.
Behind a young roster, North Hall looks to be peaking late in the season, after posting 529 yards of offense in the win against Monroe Area. Trojans quarterback Drew Atha had three touchdowns to lead the way for the Trojans.
“When we face North Hall, the first thing we have to be able to do on defense is stop the run,” said Kenimer.
Last week against White County, Sijiye saw action at quarterback, throwing a 79-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Rosario. Forman wouldn’t say whether Sijiye will play quarterback in this week’s game against North Hall. Tray Bryant led a hard-nosed War Eagles rushing attack with 95 yards on 15 carries against White County.
“Chestatee has a great running game and (it) can throw the ball well too,” Bishop said. “I expect this game to be won in the trenches.”
North Hall has had similar injury problems this season. Atha missed the first few games of the season but appears to be back to full health. Defensive backs Micah Strickland (concussion) and Eddie Ramos (knee sprain) both went out of the game against Dawson County with an injury. Bishop said the Trojans have, at times, played without between four and six expected starters.
North Hall wraps up its season against White County on Nov. 7 at The Brickyard.