VIDEO: North Hall juniors Thomas Sprague and Nathan Jones
Class AAA state playoffs
North Hall vs. Dunwoody
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: North Dekalb Stadium, Chamblee. North Dekalb Stadium is located at 3688 Chamblee Dunwoody Road, Chamblee, GA 30341.
Nathan Jones may have taken a page out of Thomas Sprague’s book when it comes to playing defense.
These juniors have taken a similar path to becoming leaders for North Hall (8-3). Few outside of North Hall knew who Jones was until he stepped on the scene this year and quickly became one of the leading defensive backs in the area with 97 tackles and eight interceptions.
It’s a very similar tale as to how Sprague emerged as a leader when he eclipsed the 100-tackle mark as an undersized sophomore linebacker on the Trojans 2007 state semifinalist team. The leader of North Hall’s linebackers has continued to improve this season to the point where he leads the area with 153 tackles and nine tackles for a loss.
So you can imagine the result when you combine the ball hawk abilities that Jones possesses, along with the knack for the hard hits that Sprague provides — you have the formula for a very successful defensive unit. They put it all together with 19 tackles each in a first round playoff victory against Hart County last Friday night at The Brickyard.
"Our goal is to force a three and out on defense," Jones said. "We take a lot of pride in playing well on defense."
The stage is a little bit bigger this week as North Hall goes for its first road playoff win in school history, with a second round playoff game against Class AAA’s third-ranked Dunwoody (11-0) at North Dekalb Stadium in Chamblee.
Neither Sprague or Jones seem particularly overwhelmed by the task at hand.
"This is huge, and I think we can do it," Sprague said. "I think our defense is playing inspired and we just have to continue to play out of our heads."
"Dunwoody has a stout running back, a stout line, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen this year," Jones said. "We’ve played the likes of Gainesville and Buford, so we’ll come out prepared and it should be a good test for us."
North Hall’s defense is clearly a different unit that got battered in early season losses and limped out of the gates to a 3-3 start. Since that .500 start, the Trojans’ defensive starters have only allowed an average of six points per game during the team’s five-game winning streak through the subregion and first round of the playoffs.
"When the season started we had some deficiencies with inexperience and we struggled early on," North Hall coach Bob Christmas said. "But I’ve really admired the fact that we’ve won five games in a row.
"What we do is a total team effort. That’s why I think we have a chance to win any game we play."
One of the areas of concern on defense that North Hall’s coach faced when the season started was at outside linebacker. Christmas says that Ben Booth and Darien Roman, both juniors, have stepped up to ease any concern he had at that position. Linebacker Peyton Wilhoite (74 tackles, 4 TFL) and senior defensive end Sam Weaver (81 tackles, 3 TFL, seven batted passes) have also made a big impact on the defensive side of the football.
This season a premium is placed on defense for North Hall, because the Trojans don’t have the same offensive weapons that carried them to back-to-back region titles in 2006 and 2007.
Sprague says that everyone on the defensive side of the football for North Hall trusts each other to make the big play.
"We just try to fly around on the field and make plays," Sprague said.
With such inspired play on defense, the Trojans are eyeing the possibility of appearing in the state quarterfinals for the third consecutive season, and a fourth trip to the field of eight since 2004.
"I told the kids they have a chance to do something special," Christmas said. "This is their chance to leave something special at North Hall."
For that chance, North Hall can thank a great defense.