North Hall Trojans at West Hall Spartans
Where: Spartan Field, Oakwood
Coaches: North Hall, David Bishop; West Hall, Tony Lotti
Records: North Hall (0-1); West Hall (2-0)
Key players: North Hall, Austin Perry (RB/DL, 6-4, 220 Sr.); Hayden Hughes (OL/DL, 6-2, 230 Sr.), Maddox Turner (QB/DB 5-9, 155 So.); West Hall, Tyquan Statham (DB/RB 6-2, 200); Kwon Williams (RB/DB 6-0, 185 Jr.); Cameron Millsap (OL/LB, 5-9, 180 Sr.)
Two Hall County rivals will meet tonight at Spartan Field in Oakwood, with their fortunes heading in opposite directions early in the season.
West Hall (2-0) is riding high after two straight shutout victories over Johnson and Chestatee. The Spartans scored four unanswered touchdowns in each win.
Meanwhile, North Hall spent this week shaking off the program’s most lopsided loss since 2011, after falling to Jefferson 48-8 last Friday. The Trojans (0-1) can’t afford to look too far ahead to their stacked Region 8-AAAA schedule — a date with the Spartans will prove a challenge in itself.
“Even when you’ve done everything properly, they can still get you,” Trojans first-year coach David Bishop said after practice on Tuesday. “You miss a tackle, they can break a run and hurt you.”
Fixing mistakes and enforcing fundamentals have been key focuses for Bishop and his staff after last week’s season-opening loss at The Brickyard. North Hall will have some of its starting secondary return after early injuries forced Bishop to start three junior varsity players against the Dragons.
Those injuries were costly for a North Hall squad that retured only one starter from the 2013 team on each side of the ball.
If their starters enjoy better health this week, the Trojans will stand a better chance of slowing down West Hall’s “thunder and lightning” tandem of running backs, Kwon Williams and Tyquan Statham. The pair has combined for half of the team’s touchdowns so far, while a total of seven other rushers helped Williams and Statham rack up more than 300 yards on the ground in the Spartans’ recent rout over Chestatee.
West Hall head coach Tony Lotti is proud of his deep backfield, but doesn’t want his team to lose focus after two wins. Tonight’s game brings the added distraction of homecoming ceremonies.
“Nobody signed up to go 2-8,” he said. “In no way am I too excited yet. We’ve gotta keep it in perspective. They’ve got an established tradition of winning at North Hall and a built-in mindset of success. It’s an extreme test for us.”
Bishop has also been preparing his Trojans to break down Lotti’s 3-4 defense. West Hall hasn’t allowed a team to get inside its 4-yard line so far this season and has forced five fumbles in two games.
Trojans running backs Austin Perry (14 carries, 70 yards against Jefferson) and Bobby Mendenhall will be getting the majority of touches tonight against the Spartans. Bishop is hoping he can rotate the two to keep them fresh, rather than designate one as being the workhorse of the offensive scheme.
“For us, we run on a track and our offense is very precision-based,” Bishop said. “Six inches could be the difference between handing the ball off and not. Some of the guys didn’t know the importance of being precise until they saw it. They’ll look back on tape from two years ago and be able to visualize their position on the field. It helps.”
Although North Hall is a predominantly run-heavy offense, Lotti expects Trojans quarterback Maddox Turner (75 rushing yards against Jefferson) to have an impact as a play-action threat. He called Turner “a competitor” that will ensure West Hall is forced to balance its defensive scheme to protect aerial and ground attacks.
With athletes like Statham, Williams, Jacob Miller and Tristan Hester all rotating into the secondary, West Hall has enough talent to limit big plays. Every starting secondary player has had at least a full year of varsity play under his belt.
“If you’re sitting there and just looking at the rush, they’ll lean on you, lean on you, lean on you, and then break you,” Lotti said. “It forces you to make a decision.”
History is on the side of the Trojans in the series. North Hall has beaten its county rival each of the past seven times they’ve met. West Hall last defeated North Hall, 28-7, on Nov. 1, 2002.