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Game of the Week: East Hall, Johnson meet in battle of contrasting styles
Up-tempo Vikings to square off with option-based Knights in non-region contest
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East Hall quarterback Austin Parker releases a pass Friday evening during the first half of the Vikings game with Chestatee High at War Eagle Stadium. - photo by Scott Rogers

Get prepared for Week 4 of the high school football season with breakdowns of every matchup for area teams.

Bryan Gray carefully crafted his East Hall High football team’s early-season schedule, assuring the Vikings would have the experience of adjusting to several different offensive and defensive schemes before beginning region play.

This week’s opponent uses perhaps the most uncommon style of them all.

Up-tempo East Hall will clash with option-based Johnson High at 7:30 p.m. today at Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium in Gainesville, a battle of conflicting styles that will surely test both defenses.

“It’s not fun to prepare for them,” Gray said with a laugh. “(Knights coach Jason Roquemore) and his staff do a tremendous job running the option. The kids are so fundamental, and they know their assignments. It’s a very difficult offense to play against. Years ago, you saw it on a weekly basis; now, it’s a rarity.”

Johnson (0-3), meanwhile, will have its hands full trying to slow a Vikings’ offense that averaged 57 points per game through its first two contests of the season.

It all runs through senior quarterback Austin Parker. East Hall’s signal-caller has completed 64 percent of his passes for 831 yards, 12 touchdowns and just one interception — well on track to surpass his eye-popping numbers from last season.

Parker is also a threat as a rusher, but the Vikings’ primary threat on the ground is 6-foot-2, 230-pound junior Cambren Harrison, who’s averaging more than 10 yards per carry. 

Seniors Sedrion Morse, Tripp Rider and Austin Brock lead a group of talented receivers for East Hall (1-1), and Harrison has also proven to be a capable target out of the backfield.

When the Knights have possession, expect a much different look.

Junior quarterback Sam Corbett, who Roquemore anticipates will make big strides in his third season as a starter, will engineer Johnson’s option attack. Despite having a small roster comprising mostly underclassmen, the Knights drew praise from Gray for how well they execute their scheme.

“It’s a challenge to get your kids to realize how disciplined (the Knights) are and how well they do their jobs,” Gray said. “If one person misses an assignment, that’s usually where the option exposes you and gets a big gain from it.”

The Vikings had ample opportunity to game plan against Johnson’s old-school offense thanks to an open date last week, but Gray said he spent the extra time drilling fundamentals and giving his players adequate rest to recover from early-season bumps and bruises.

“You go back to Day 1 fundamentals and improving yourself the best you can,” he said. “We tried to get back to those skills and drills, the things you can’t really focus on when you’re in the middle of the season.”

Gray especially emphasized fundamentals this week in hopes to counter an offense built around deception.

But the Knights aim to thwart East Hall’s meticulous preparation in their final tuneup before opening Region 8-5A play against Flowery Branch on Sept. 22. Johnson is also still seeking its first win in almost two years.

The Vikings can keep that losing streak, and their own early momentum, going tonight. East Hall used a dominant two-quarter stretch to fuel a 59-37 win at Chestatee High two weeks ago, and Gray hopes that game can kickstart a return to the playoffs.

But first the Vikings must clear the hurdle of Johnson’s tricky option offense and, ideally, gain some valuable experience in the process.

“We’re constantly evaluating fundamentals in our non-region schedule,” Gray said. “We ask, ‘Are they getting better so that when you get into the region, we can adapt and be the best we can be at that point?’ You’re challenging kids with, ‘Are we getting better at this job, at this technique?’

“So when we get to region, we know what we can do and can’t do. Then we try to maximize what we know we can do once we get to region play.”

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