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Trojans 41, Dragons 34
Difference maker: North Hall’s special teams. The Trojans recovered onside attempts twice and a short kick off another time in the fourth quarter after a Jefferson score.
Stat that matters: The Trojans turned the ball over three times, but only resulted in one Dragons touchdown.
Turning point: Leading by one score early in the fourth quarter, North Hall’s Nolan Tucker recovered an onside kick and the Trojans scored seven plays later on a run by Destin Bennett to go ahead 35-21.
Who’s next: North Hall hosts Dawson County; Jefferson hosts Greene County on Sept. 27.
JEFFERSON — North Hall can credit Friday’s 41-34 win over defending Class AA state champion Jefferson to some good hands work in the fourth, though turnovers were holding the Trojans’ offense back for much of the first half at Memorial Stadium.
Leading for the entire fourth quarter, North Hall managed to recover an onside attempt twice in the final period, then covered a short kickoff after the Dragons (2-1) third touchdown of the fourth quarter to preserve the win.
With the win, North Hall moves to 3-0 for the first time since 2007.
“This is just a great momentum boost for us against a great Jefferson program as we get ready to go into region play,” said North Hall senior quarterback Andrew Smith, who rushed for 120 yards and ran for two touchdowns.
One of the biggest plays came with the Trojans ahead 27-21 early in the fourth quarter. Jefferson went with a straight-on onside kick attempt that Trojans senior Nolan Tucker fielded cleanly and held on to as he was hit hard into the turf.
After a Tristen Jackson run for a Jefferson score midway through the fourth quarter, North Hall’s Drew Atha recovered the Dragons’ second attempt at an onside kick.
“We felt that by the time we got to the fourth quarter that we couldn’t stop North Hall anymore,” Jefferson coach Ben Hall said. “And I wasn’t crazy about kicking it to the Smith kid, either.”
That precision on the special teams was crucial for North Hall, which rushed for 455 yards on the night, but turned it over twice inside the Jefferson 20 twice on offense and again on a fumble when a punt returner didn’t catch the ball cleanly in the third quarter.
With the win, Trojans coach Bob Christmas opted to give his team Monday off from practice with a bye Friday before opening Region 7-AAA play against Dawson County on Sept. 27 at The Brickyard.
“I couldn’t be more proud of how our team played against a great Jefferson program,” Christmas said. “Without those turnovers, it could have been a totally different game, but our kids stayed in there and were able to fight until the end.”
Christmas said that beating a quality opponent such as Jefferson was a big momentum for the Trojans, despite some miscues early. Jefferson only managed to score one touchdown off a North Hall turnover.
Leading 35-27 late in the fourth quarter, North Hall scored its final touchdown when Smith ran through the line on a keeper, fumbled the ball forward, picked it up and ran in untouched 23 yards for the touchdown.
Along with a 27-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, Smith also threw a 33-yard touchdown strike to Lee Shelton in the first quarter that tied the score at 7-7.
Destin Bennett, a senior, also scored on a pair of short touchdown run for the Trojans and finished the game with 46 yards rushing.
Despite the big night running the ball for North Hall, Jefferson hung in until the very end behind the 296 yards passing from junior quarterback Evan Shirreffs and hard-nosed running of senior running back Tristen Jackson (69 yards, TD).
Jefferson drew to within six points in the first minute of the fourth quarter with a 2-yard touchdown run by Isaiah Blake. After the failed onside attempt, Bennett scored seven plays later on a run from the 1.
Jackson drew Jefferson back to within a score, again, with his touchdown run from the 3. When Atha recovered the onside attempt, Smith scored his touchdown on the fourth play of the drive when the fumble popped right back in his hands and a wide-open lane to the end zone for North Hall.
“That’s just how we planned that play out,” Smith said of his touchdown run with a grin.
Down 41-27, Jefferson would add one more touchdown with Shirreffs’ 21-yard touchdown strike to T.J. Skelton, his second touchdown catch of the game.
In the first quarter, Skelton caught a 30-yard pass from Shirreffs, who spent most of the night under pressure from the Trojans defense.
Hall said only scoring one touchdown off of three North Hall turnovers was a big difference in the game, but still feels that playing such a tough non-region opponent will pay off in the long run.
“I’m still glad we played this game because it’s great for our kids to play in such a big-game atmosphere like we always have against North Hall,” said Hall. “You just have to tip your hat to North Hall; they played a great game.”
On Sept. 27, Jefferson opens Region 8-AA play against Greene County at Memorial Stadium in Jefferson.