The North Hall-Gainesville series is quite a complex rivalry. It can’t be summed up with just one trademark characteristic.
It’s a classic example of two highly successful football programs that are so close in proximity, getting a chance to rekindle their rivalry each and every season. This is a game neither school wants to lose with possible playoff implications down the road.
The North Hall-Gainesville rivalry hits even closer to home when you take into account that many of these players from one school have friends and family that attend the other. Over the years, many graduates from one school have crossed school district lines and raise their children attending the other school.
“This is what high school football is all about,” Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said. “When these two communities get together it gives everyone something to talk about.”
The atmosphere for a Gainesville-North Hall game is another distinguishing trait of this rivalry. Last season an estimated crowd of 7,000 attended the game at City Park. Another record gate at The Brickyard is certainly within the realm of possibility, says North Hall coach Bob Christmas.
“North Hall-Gainesville has to be one of the biggest rivalries in the state,” Christmas said. “It’s a fun game for the school, players and coaches.”
Gainesville senior Josh Jackson compares the night before the North Hall game to that of the night before Christmas when you’re a kid. He can’t sleep. The only thing on his mind is getting on the field to play.
He admits that last season’s electric atmosphere for the Gainesville-North Hall game took away from the Red Elephants concentration. Gainesville’s senior defensive lineman doesn’t want the same to happen in his final outing against the cross county rival.
“Playing against North Hall is definitely a different rivalry,” Jackson said. “If you get caught up in looking in the scoreboard, you’re going to miss a good game.”
Gainesville junior Robert Humphrey probably gives this rivalry the most personal touch of any player on the field tonight. The Red Elephant defensive back was a starting linebacker for the Trojans in 2007. Making it hit even closer to home is the fact that his two step-brothers, Randy and Kyle Olson, still play for North Hall.
“There’s a lot of emotions that go into this game for me,” Humphrey said. “I don’t know what I’ll be feeling once the game begins.”
Playing such an emotional rivalry game with players that have such close ties to each school is a two-way street. Christmas said there really isn’t a way to take the emotion out of a game of this magnitude.
“The emotions are going to be high in this game for the players,” Christmas said.
There could be playoff implications from this game down the road, even though it isn’t a subregion game in Region 7-AAA. The playoff dilemma could emerge if these two teams had the same record at the end of the season and were both qualified for the playoffs. Christmas said that losing just one game in region play makes it tough to stay in the 7-AAA title hunt.
“With our region with 13 teams someone could emerge to be No. 1 in each subregion and we could be No. 2 and this game could decide third or fourth (seed),” Miller said. “And I’d much rather go into the playoffs as a third place team than a fourth place team.
“Or if we beat (North Hall) and we’re both No. 1’s, then we go as a No. 1 and they go as a No. 2. So it’s just got that feel about it.”
Since 2002, North Hall and Gainesville each have three Region 7-AAA titles. The winner of this grudge match has gone on to win the region title all but one season (2006). The No. 8 ranked Red Elephants (3-0) won that 29-28 game at The Brickyard with a last second touchdown run from then quarterback Justin Fordham followed by a two point conversion. Miller’s decision to go for the winning two-point conversion was easy after North Hall was penalized for jumping off sides.
“I’ve been coaching for 35 years and that has to got to be right at the top for most exciting games I’ve coached in,” Miller added.
This season’s game is built up to be another classic battle. North Hall (1-1) will have to find an answer for Gainesville’s skill players. The Red Elephants are going to be pressed by the Trojans ability to pass the football.
“The way I see it this game is a coin flip,” Miller said.
Tonight’s game is the 21st meeting between these two schools. Gainesville holds a 16-4 advantage in the series. North Hall is looking for its first back-to-back wins since 1989-1990 against Gainesville.
North Hall and Gainesville both launch into the subregion schedule next week. North Hall has its first meeting against Creekview next Friday at the Brickyard. Gainesville plays host to West Hall to open its Region 7B-AAA slate at City Park.