It’s hard to fathom a football player like Austin Parker isn’t getting calls from many colleges.
East Hall High’s star quarterback said he would keep his options open if that were to change. That may be soon — very soon.
Parker, the state’s leading passer with 4,026 yards this season, led an explosive Vikings squad as the team proved it’s where it belongs with a monumental upset over No. 7 Morgan County in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs Friday night. The reigning Times’ Player of the Year threw for six touchdown passes, including four to wideout Sedrion Morse, and 463 yards. Add in some big plays on the defensive side, and the result is fourth-seeded East Hall’s first postseason victory since 1993.
It was the first time this season, Parker said, that the Vikings executed on all cylinders for an entire game. It conveniently materialized against a No. 1 seed and region champion.
“This season has been kind of a rollercoaster; we’ve had our ups and downs,” Parker said. “Going into the (Morgan County) game, we just really wanted to focus on everything that we could do, and each person doing their job. ... Especially going against a region champion, we kind of just had to go out there and lay it all on them, all on the line one last time because we knew that was our only guaranteed game.”
Austin Brock (six catches for 107 yards and a touchdown) and Amir Ellison also hauled in touchdowns from Parker as the Vikings (7-4) totaled 606 yards.
East Hall now boasts a 4,000-yard passer (the first in program history), a 1,000-yard rusher in Cambren Harrison and a player with 1,000 or more receiving yards (Morse) in the same season. That offensive preeminence is almost unheard-of for many collegiate programs.
There were only five FBS teams with such a trio last year, with each playing 13 or more games. East Hall has done it in just 11.
“We knew we were gonna be skillful and talented on offense and the defensive side of the ball,” Parker said. “But I don’t think any of us actually realized that we could be this deadly on the offensive side of the ball.”
The Region 7-3A four-seed pulled off the 50-36 win Friday after overcoming a 15-point first-quarter deficit, racking up 32 straight points.
East Hall went on to take a 38-21 lead in the third quarter, and while leading 44-36 in the fourth, the Vikings delivered the knockout punch with another touchdown. Simply put by Parker, the Vikings wore Morgan County down.
It was the fifth time the Vikings totaled 50 or more points this season.
“We play at such a fast pace throughout the game, the teams start to wear down,” Parker said. “We just knew that once it got to halftime, and after halftime we were gonna start clicking and rolling, and they weren’t gonna be able to run with us.”
Parker spent his spare time on the sidelines spreading words of encouragement to his linemen and strategizing with his receivers during the rally. When the teams changed possession, the signal-caller made sure his defensive teammates knew they were appreciated.
The Vikings swarmed the Bulldogs with a few sacks, picked off Bulldogs’ senior quarterback Trey Patterson twice and had four stops on fourth down to keep all momentum.
“We knew they had some stars,” said senior defensive back Tripp Rider, who recorded a couple tackles for a loss last Friday night. “You’re not gonna win your region just by being mediocre. ... We knew that going in, and defensively this year, we’ve been working on being an opportunistic defense.”
For the year, Parker brought his touchdown total to 44 with only four interceptions. He even recorded a career first on the defensive side, amping up his Viking teammates with a jarring tackle. Rider quipped it was a little odd seeing his quarterback in that light.
“Austin Parker is very opportunistic and he just likes to be the star of the show so,” Rider said with a laugh. “ ... He went out there, saw an opportunity and he took it — speared the joker.”
The same East Hall team that lost three of its last four regular-season games — including a last-second loss to Dawson County and a disheartening senior night tumble against North Hall — is showing that last tough string of region opponents is beginning to pay dividends.
“There are always ways to evaluate our team, but our kids are competitive and we just have to just get on the same page,” Vikings coach Bryan Gray said. “And Friday night, we put together a game for about three-and-a-half quarters, and it definitely paid off for us.”
Amazingly, the Vikings aren’t done from a statistical standpoint as they begin preparation for No. 3 seed Westminster in their second-round game Friday night.
But as far as Parker is concerned, the numbers are the least of his worries. If they come, they come.
After all, that approach has worked up to this point.