It took the East Hall football team about a quarter and a half to heat up in its first game of the season Friday night against West Hall, but after a slow start, it was all Vikings.
East Hall scored 30 unanswered points in a period of dominance that spanned from the second to fourth quarters, coming from behind to beat the Spartans 30-22 on the road.
“Our guys are tired of hearing how bad we are,” East Hall head coach Michael Perry said. “We’re sick and tired of hearing how bad we are. All around Hall County people were trashing us and all that. We knew we had something to prove.”
Vikings quarterback Clete Cooper had a career night, completing 26 of 46 pass attempts for 368 yards and three touchdowns, and adding 42 yards and another score on seven carries. Macere Walker, Cooper’s top target on the night, caught 11 balls for 237 yards and a score.
East Hall got off to a slow start in the game, ceding the first 14 points to West Hall off a pair short rushing touchdowns from Tilil Blackwell — who would finish the game with 40 yards and three touchdowns on 12 carries.
But Cooper threw three touchdowns in the last five minutes of the second quarter and added a rushing score early in the third to keep the Vikings offense hot. A short field goal from East Hall’s Jaden Hernandez put the Vikings up 30-14 with less than eight minutes left to play.
West Hall drew back to within a score following another Blackwell rushing touchdown and a 2-point conversion pass from Clayton Jenkins to Rodrigo Lopez, but a late interception from the Vikings’ Montavious Tabor and a huge first-down pass from Cooper to Walker on 4th and 13 with less than a minute to play put the game away for good.
“We’re going to have a lot of energy going into the rest of the season,” Cooper said. “This game mattered. We couldn’t get off to a bad start.”COOPER’S BIG NIGHT
Cooper didn’t get his team’s offense on the board until about five minutes were left in the second quarter, but as soon as he found his stride he was dominant. He connected on several big plays to Walker and Tabor in the first half, throwing for 277 yards and a trio of scores in the opening 24 minutes alone.
And while Cooper had a hand in all four Vikings touchdowns in the game, he deferred credit for the production to everyone but himself.
“The receivers stepped up,” he said. “O-line played really good, and defense kept us in the game early. The offense finally figured it out and we got on a roll.”SECOND QUARTER PUSH
The game’s biggest momentum shift took place halfway through the second quarter when the Vikings were trailing by a pair of scores and struggling to get anything going offensively. On the first play from scrimmage after Cooper threw his first touchdown of the night to Tabor, Darius Holcomb picked off a Clayton Jenkins pass to set up the Vikings second score, which came one play later.
After the game, Perry said the interception was one of the biggest keys to the team’s turnaround, adding that Holcomb was only in the game because of injuries to players ahead of him.
“We just had guys step up,” Perry said. “Overall, just a great performance by the team.”OFFENSE TURNING INTO DEFENSE
Early on in the game, nothing seemed to be going right for East Hall.
The team struggled to find any offensive consistency, turning the ball over on downs three times in the first half and allowing a pair of long touchdown drives before finding its stride. But as soon as the Vikings put some points on the board, everything started coming together. East Hall held West Hall scoreless from the middle of the second quarter to the middle of the fourth quarter, picking up a pair of interceptions in that time period. Perry credited defensive coordinator Shane Giardina, or “Coach G,” for running a tight ship defensively. The strong performance also impressed Cooper, who said it was “the best I’ve seen them play in a while.”
“Our defense won us this game, I think,” he said.