East Hall High football coach Bryan Gray knew his offense had all the ability to compete at a high level entering 2017.
He just never anticipated the astronomical numbers the group would produce.
As the state football playoffs begin this week, Gray may have one of the most prolific offenses in the Class 3A tournament at his disposal. The 438 points scored by the Vikings through 10 games are the most by any team in the school’s history.
“I felt really good coming into the year and how good they could compete,” said Gray, who has coached at East Hall for the last 11 seasons.
“Would I say that we would have this many records set offensively? No. But it’s a great testament to the kids and how hard they work. ... We’ve had all-around balance offensively, which is exciting.”
East Hall got on a roll quickly.
The Vikings shattered their win total from 2016 during a five-game win streak to start the campaign, including a 2-0 start to region play. Senior quarterback Austin Parker even reached the 1,000-yard mark by Week 4.
The scoring frenzy continued even after East Hall experienced some struggles down the home stretch. By Week 12, Gray watched Parker (3,563 yards, 38 touchdowns) become East Hall’s first-ever 3,000-yard passer — another historical feat to scratch off this year.
The reigning Times’ Player of the Year and the state’s leading signal-caller surpassed the career mark in a disheartening loss to North Hall on Oct. 27. Parker quickly put that behind him, tossing six touchdown passes in the regular-season finale at Fannin County.
“Austin is a competitor,” Gray said. “You shake (a loss) off, and the only way to get over it and prevent it from happening again is to get back the next morning and focus on the next task. That’s exactly what he did after North Hall. ... That’s one of the things that makes him special.”
Eight different receivers have hauled in touchdown passes from Parker, including senior Sedrion Morse, who reached the 1,000-yard pinnacle Friday night. Junior running back Cambren Harrison has brought balance to East Hall’s pass-heavy attack with 1,057 yards from scrimmage.
But the Vikings aren’t finished.
East Hall resets for a whole new season, and Gray hopes the magic can continue as No. 4 seed East hall (6-4) visits top-seeded Morgan County (9-1) on Friday for a first-round playoff game in Madison.
“I think the kids are focused,” Gray said. “Not everybody gets to go to the playoffs, so it’s an honor to do that and an award for the hard work.”
The Bulldogs’ offense clearly exhibits a similar capability to score in large quantities.
In the offseason, head coach Bill Malone abandoned the traditional Wing-T for something fresh under 28-year-old offensive coordinator Wade Woodall. It quickly paid dividends as the Bulldogs implemented a spread offense and averaged 35 points on their way to nine wins and an unbeaten mark in Region 8-3A.
Morgan County possesses big-play ability at the skill positions, starting with quarterback Trey Patterson (126 of 234).
The senior has passed for 2,170 yards, 25 touchdowns and only two interceptions to lead the charge. Six-foot-four wide receiver Anthony Cooper (33 catches, 814 yards, 13 touchdowns), Jacarius “Tuke” Robinson (336 yards, four touchdowns) and running back Rambo Rambus have captured spotlight many times as well.
The defense, coached by another young gun in Brett Bell, 28, has given up only 15 points a contest.
“They’ve got real good size. ... Their speed will be a little bit of a change for us, facing such good speed on defense. But that’s kind of how we’re built. We’re built for athletic speed too,” Gray said.
Eliminating any mental errors while playing loose will be key, added Gray, if the Vikings are going to extend their stay in the postseason after missing out in 2016. East Hall has not advanced beyond the opening round since the 1993 tournament, during which it reached the state quarterfinals.
“We have to make sure we’re lined up in the right place, doing the right job ... and we need to be able to stop the run and be able to run the ball effectively,” Gray said. “And I think our kids just need to go into the game loose (with) a ‘We’ve got nothing to lose’ attitude and just go play.”
The winner of this matchup moves on to face the winner of No. 3 seed Westminster and second-seeded North Murray.