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Watson's big night sparks Vikings over Johnson, 42-23
Senior overcomes headache, then gives Knights one with 4 TDs
Johnson High's Chase Sims, right, spins away from East Hall's Brandon Tate on Friday night as he scrambles with the ball during the first half of the Knights' game at East Hall Stadium.

Vikings 42, Knights 23

Difference maker: East Hall senior quarterback Devin Watson was decisive when it counted most, in the air and on the run. Along with his four touchdowns, Watson was a consistent threat to Johnson’s linebackers on the keeper.

Stat that matters: The Viking defense held Jesse Griggs, Johnson’s main weapon, to just 81 yards and very few explosive plays.

Turning point: Jacquen Hopkins high-stepped into the end zone from 31 yards out seven minutes before the second half after a well-worked reverse handoff that moved right to left from Watson to Ash to Hopkins.

Who’s next: East Hall plays host to Franklin County while Johnson rests with a bye week.

East Hall quarterback Devin Watson said he slept for 14 hours Thursday night to stave off a migraine in order to play in Friday night’s rivalry game against Johnson.

By the time he was finished on the football field Friday night, the Knights could only wish they had just woken up from a bad dream.

Watson (11 for 21, 223 yards) threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more to help his team to a defiant 42-23 win at East Hall Stadium. Johnson fumbled the ball five times in the first half, leading to two turnovers.

East Hall (3-4, 1-2 Region 7-AAA) made the visitors pay for their mistakes, scoring on both subsequent possessions to build an insurmountable 28-3 halftime lead.

While Johnson (2-6) has found success this season in the running game, it couldn’t sustain long enough drives to truly threaten East Hall. Orion Pittman put Johnson back in with a shout when he ran an interception back 29 yards to give the Knights their first touchdown.

But the damage had been done long before, when the Vikings scored 35 unanswered points throughout the opening 28 minutes of action.

“I still think I could have been better,” Watson said of his performance after the game. “I’ll need to be if we’re going to win region.”

The Vikings’ next contest will feature Franklin County, who put a spirited display against region leaders West Hall Friday night.

East Hall head coach Bryan Gray said he had been looking for his team to put together a “complete performance” against non-region Johnson, who came to East Hall off the back of its first two wins of the season.

The Knights’ first drive was the best of the night. Johnson used fullback Jesse Griggs seven times for short gains before Isaac Henry kicked a 26-yard field goal to open the scoring.

East Hall was not to be denied, however. Two plays and 26 seconds later, Watson found senior running back Jacques Ash dashing into the end zone with a 40-yard pass for East Hall’s first touchdown of the night.

When Johnson committed its first lost fumble four minutes later on the East Hall 49, Watson was able to find Jacquen Hopkins for a 26-yard score. Watson and Hopkins even connected for the two-point conversion to put the score at 14-3 at the end of the first quarter.

“I had the one catch, so I just had to go make another,” said Hopkins, smiling. “We had a tough loss last week, so it’s good to head back to region confident.

Soon, the memories of last week’s 51-22 loss to cross-county rival West Hall were fading away when Watson scored from a quarterback keeper on Johnson’s 1-yard line on the next drive after Johnson’s second fumble.

Hopkins racked up 31 of his 61 yards with 7:27 left in the half when he gathered a reverse handoff from Watson, then Ash on the fake. The junior receiver cut to the far sideline and was high-stepping into the end zone at the 5-yard line.

Watson got into a groove after the halftime break, throwing back-to-back passes to Junior Lee (3 receptions for 40 yards) and Hopkins before rushing in to score from six yards away a minute later.

“I feel like I’m getting a little better each week, getting back into the flow of the game,” Watson said. “I’ve got to keep at it.”

Orion Pittman gave Johnson a glimmer of hope with 5:06 left in the first quarter. He snatched a Watson pass on the East Hall 29 before running it back for Johnson’s first touchdown.

On the next drive, Chase Sims found Javier Silva for Johnson’s only reception over the middle. Silva, with the help of two near-side blockers, ran 65 yards to cut the lead to 42-16.

“The way we fought back was just great,” said Johnson head coach Jason Roquemore. “But we can’t turn the ball over like we did. With the weapons they have, you know they’re going to score.

Silva (8 carries for 70 yards) put together three straight first downs for Johnson in the waning minutes, which culminated in quarterback Sims scoring on a 1-yard keeper.

But the damage was done long before.

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