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Trojans back home, try for first win Friday
North Hall’s Imani Cross rambles down field for a big gain during the Trojans’ loss to Gainesville High last Friday night at Bobby Gruhn Field.

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High school football previews: Week 5

North Hall last played a home game nearly 10 months ago, the Trojans’ final game of the 2010 season.

The long wait for a home game finally ends Friday when North Hall returns to the Brickyard looking to snap an 0-3 start to the season against Walnut Grove (1-2, 0-0 8-AAA South).

It has been an unusually tough start to the season for North Hall, which opened with a first week bye before playing at Jefferson (4-0), at St. Pius X (4-0) and at Gainesville (2-1).

The tough early schedule has resulted in early injuries, and now the Trojans find themselves down three starters for the rest of the season. Two other starters injured early will be back soon; safety Andrew Smith is set to play Friday and linebacker Cody Fowler should be back for the subregion opener against Chestatee.

"This has been a tough way to start," said North Hall coach Bob Christmas. "We knew we had the ability to start 3-0, but we knew we could also start 0-3."

Not that this season’s start has been all bad, especially considering the subregion schedule has not yet begun.

"Good people expose weaknesses, so we have had an opportunity to fix those areas and that makes us a better football team," Christmas said. "But if you don’t win, you suffer from confidence issues."

That makes Friday's game even more important than the region crossover game might have been. It’s a chance to post a win before beginning the most important stretch of the schedule, and it’s a chance to win in front of the home crowd.

"It’s extremely important because it builds momentum," said senior running back Imani Cross. "We just need some momentum, and that’s what the first win does."

Last year North Hall traveled to Walnut Grove and came away with a 40-0 win, so a win Friday may seem likely on paper. But the Trojans aren’t taking any chances in trying to secure that first victory.

"They’re fast defensively and they run the ball well," Cross said. "We’re expecting a lot out of them."

This season North Hall has come to expect a lot out of Cross, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound running back who has already committed to play at Tennessee next season. Cross has delivered, compiling 470 yards and seven touchdowns on 72 rushing attempts.

But the senior, who transferred from Flowery Branch prior to last season, isn’t content to just have a good individual performance in a loss.

"Imani has meant as much as a leader as has his presence on the field," Christmas said. "He’s a quality young man and he puts the team first."

Cross has even lined up at quarterback in the wildcat formation recently, giving the Trojans another way to get the ball in his hands more often. The powerful back loves the formation, even if he’s still trying to work out the kinks.

"I love the wildcat," Cross said. "I like the fact that it’s a change-of-pace type of offense after running the Wing-T. It’s a way to switch things up.

"I am hoping to improve my passer rating."

The senior threw two passes in last Friday’s loss to Gainesville, finishing 0 for 2 with an interception.

But, like the team around him, Cross is focused on improving, throwing every day with starting quarterback Bradley Brown.

Improvement is the focus at North Hall right now. The Trojans have had every chance to write off their 0-3 start to playing three road games against teams with a combined record of 10-1. Instead, they are focusing on putting together a better team than they’ve fielded in the first three weeks, no matter who the opponent is or where the game is played.

"Our kids are very upbeat and positive," Christmas said. "They know that they could win the next seven games and be region champs.

"Right now we’re not as bad as our record shows."

With the team slowly but surely getting healthier and playing four of their final six games at home, the Trojans have the chance now to prove that this football team is still a postseason and region championship contender.

It all starts Friday at the Brickyard, home sweet home for the road-weary Trojans.

"This is a great atmosphere for football," Christmas said. "Our kids would rather play here than anywhere."

And this time Cross and the North Hall football team have extra motivation going in to their fourth Friday night.

"There are a lot more people there rooting for you, having the home crowd," Cross said. "This gives us something to defend."

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