ATLANTA — On a Saturday when the classroom was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind, North Hall’s players, coaches and fans learned a valuable lesson in the Georgia Dome.
Great coaching, execution and work ethic can only take you so far in the state playoffs. Sometimes, you are just going to run into a better team.
The Trojans’ season ended with a 42-21 loss to Cairo in the Class AAA state semifinals. It was the second week in a row that North Hall had to play a team that was at least its equal.
The fact that Perry might be a better team than North Hall is debatable. The Trojans’ 12-10 win over the Panthers last week is proof of that.
The fact that Cairo is a better team is undeniable. You can’t argue with a 21-point loss.
Like they have done all season, the Trojans took advantage of the mistakes a faster and more talented Cairo team made in the first half.
After a bad snap on a 29-yard field goal attempt, North Hall sophomore Robert Humphrey ran the ball back into the end zone like he stole something.
He had. He stole seven points.
When Cairo stopped making mistakes, North Hall started to lose sight of the game’s momentum. That was when the Syrupmakers’ (I still can’t believe that is the team’s name) talent took over.
Their double threat backfield of Reginald Bryant and Ronnie Wooten ran wild on North Hall’s defense, breaking tackles and busting long runs. They piled up over 300 yards of offense alone. They were clearly the most talented players on the field.
And good news Class AAA: They are only juniors.
"They are a very talented football team and they have great speed," North Hall coach Bob Christmas said. "You have to play mistake-free football to beat them."
It also helps to have players that can match their talent level.
You will never convince me that there is a team with a better attitude, work ethic and execution than North Hall. From what I have seen of them this year, they play the game the absolute right way.
They are a team first, playing for the greater glory.
"It’s how hard they play," Christmas said when asked what sticks out about this version of the Trojans. "They play extremely hard. It has gotten them to where they are."
I completely agree.
It would be easy to label the Trojans as overachievers. But any team that works that hard and that selflessly deserves to play on local television in the state’s capitol. I think North Hall finished right where they were supposed to.
But when a team reaches the Georgia Dome, the talent level is ratcheted up a lot. Division I-A college prospects make the semifinals their showcase. Saturday afternoon, North Hall’s attitude just couldn’t close the talent gap between the two teams.
Don’t get me wrong. North Hall’s players have talent, but not the kind of talent that college scouts drool over. Not the kind of talent that can turn 2-yard losses into 80-yard touchdown runs.
Not the kind of talent that Cairo has. North Hall’s strength this whole season has been in the collective, not the individual.
It might be harder for fans to hoist an entire team on their shoulders instead of one star player, but for a coach, it is a dream.
"I would rather go to battle with this team than any other, even right now," Christmas said after the loss.
Again, I completely agree.