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East Hall starts fast to claim 42-14 win against Lumpkin County in region opener
Vikings defense forces turnovers, big stops in resounding win
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East Hall wide receiver Sedrion Morse (1) runs with the ball on Friday during the game between East Hall and Lumpkin County in Gainesville. - photo by David Barnes

Friday night was all about starting fast for the East Hall High football team — both on the field and in the Region 7-3A race.

The Vikings surged to a three-touchdown lead just less than eight minutes into the game and held on for a 42-14 win against Lumpkin County High in the region opener for both teams at East Hall Stadium in Gainesville. 

East Hall (4-1, 1-0 region) paired its usual offensive production with an opportunistic defense that forced two turnovers, made two goal-line stands and scored on a fumble return. It was another huge step forward for a defense that allowed 72 points in the season opener.

“They’re really getting it,” Vikings coach Bryan Gray said. “It was really exciting to see them get that stop on fourth down. Those kids work so hard every day. They’re usually much smaller than teams we face, but they’ve built some confidence and are doing the little things well.”

The Indians (0-5, 0-1) played without head coach Shane Williamson, who was ejected from last week’s 60-32 loss to Chestatee after a heated exchange with officials. GHSA rules mandated Williamson miss one game for the infraction, and Lumpkin County athletic director Nicky Jenkins served as acting coach in his place.

Senior quarterback Austin Parker completed 14 of 23 passes for 264 yards and three scores as the Vikings won their fourth straight game, surpassing their number of total victories and matching their number of region victories from last season.

His first touchdown came on East Hall’s first offensive play — a 58-yard strike to senior receiver Austin Brock, who wrestled the ball away from a defender before juking another one and trotting into the end zone.

On the very next play from scrimmage, Vikings senior linebacker Isaiah Jenkins stripped the ball from Indians running back Luke Smith and raced 41 yards untouched for a score.

“It was a great play that our coaches called,” Jenkins said. “The defensive line stood (Smith) up, and my teammates joined me to go tackle him. I just took advantage of the opportunity and took the ball away.”

Lumpkin County finally got its run-heavy offense going on the following drive before a slew of penalties put it in a third-and-20 situation on East Hall’s 30-yard line. That’s when senior linebacker Brian Holcomb forced a fumble recovered by junior Daniel Restrepo.

Vikings junior running back Cambren Harrison (120 yards on nine carries) scored the first of his two touchdowns on the next drive, putting East Hall ahead 21-0 in the first quarter. 

“With our offensive tempo and all the conditioning our defense has done, we can take teams out of games quickly,” Parker said. “But we know we can’t get complacent.”

The Vikings didn’t, ripping off scoring drives of 99 and 94 yards after the defense made a pair of huge stops inside the 10-yard line.

On fourth and goal just inches from the end zone, Smith tried to jump over the pile but was turned away in midair by several East Hall defenders. Lumpkin County senior quarterback Chandler Woodham brought his team into the red zone on its next drive with a 48-yard run, but a holding penalty backed up the Indians before the Vikings kept them off the board yet again.

Harrison rumbled 47 yards to the end zone, smartly using his blockers to find space along the sideline. Then Parker, who completed passes to seven different receivers, hooked up with senior Sedrion Morse for a 12-yard touchdown to make it 35-0 just 31 seconds before halftime.

Lumpkin County had 222 rushing yards at the half, with four different players totaling at least 39 yards. But East Hall’s defense, which featured five different players who recorded a tackle for loss, stood tall time and time again.

“They’ve grown a lot over the course of the season, and their confidence has been boosted a lot,” Parker said. “They’re been giving us opportunities to score, and we’ve managed to take advantage of that.”

The Vikings went up 42-0 late in the third quarter when Parker completed a 26-yard touchdown pass to senior Tripp Rider, who carried his defender about 10 yards into the end zone.

Woodham scampered 40 yards to set up the Indians’ first score of the night, a 10-yard plunge by Smith (102 yards on 23 carries) with about nine minutes remaining. Junior running back Evan Abernathy tacked on a 7-yard rushing touchdown in the closing minutes.

All of Lumpkin County’s 342 yards came on the ground, with Woodham accounting for 99 of them. But behind a bend-but-don’t-break defense and a first-team offense that scored on all but one possession, East Hall produced a strong start to its all-important region schedule.

“Making the playoffs was the big goal we set back in January, and our senior class marked out another goal, which was to get off to a great start in region play,” Gray said.

East Hall continues its region slate with a home game against Union County High next Friday, while Lumpkin County will take a bye week before traveling to North Hall High for another region game.