By the standard set, they were having a down year.
They lost to Flowery Branch by 20 points, lost three in a row during a Christmas tournament, lost to North Hall, lost period.
East Hall was, when you consider that the Vikings have been the definition of dominance for a decade and have over the last three years lost a combined three games in the regular season, having a down year.
Then Friday night came and went.
On paper, the game was a wash.
Granted, East Hall had never been beaten at home during the state tournament, had averaged 28 wins a season and played in six championship games over the last 10 years but, this year? This year it was a wash.
South Atlanta not only boasted the No. 1 ranking in the state but had at its disposal the No. 1-rated junior in the country and were, according to USA Today, the No. 15 ranked team in the nation.
On paper it was over before it began.
When it actually began, with an emphatic alley-oop reverse dunk by Derrick Favors (the aforementioned top-rated junior) and 14-2 run by the Hornets, it looked over.
For the first two minutes of the game, East Hall couldn’t dribble, shoot, pass or play defense and, frankly, looked like deer caught in headlights.
The first sign that not all was lost happened in the two-minute span that started the game: East Hall coach Joe Dix didn’t call a timeout.
It was as if he knew that eventually his team would look down at their jerseys, look around at the crowd and get it.
Get that, regardless of their current underdog status, they were East Hall.
“Next thing you know I looked up and it was 17-16 (in favor of South Atlanta) and we were back in it,” Dix said.
The second sign was that the crowd, as fearful to start the game as the Vikings themselves, suddenly looked up at the scoreboard and looked around and realized.
With every basket from the 17-16 point on, one thing became clear, Valhalla would play the role of the sixth man against South Atlanta.
And they did it with fervor.
For every 3-pointer Joshten Hopkins hit they yelled.
Everytime Ken Wise got a rebound and, after many head fakes, put it back up they yelled.
When Josh Chapman dove while playing the front man on the press to knock the ball out of bounds, they cheered.
The crowd was so into it that when senior 3-point specialist Trevor Bishop hit his only three of the game and was knocked down in the process, someone from the crowd jumped on the court to not only help him up but push him ever so gently in the back to entice him to hustle back down court to play defense.
As if you need another example of just what the atmosphere was like, most times during games the crowd cheers after the ref has approached the table to signify that the opponent’s star player has gotten their fifth foul.
This time, the crowd roared as soon as the whistle was blown.
Instilled in the minds of Vikings young and old, player and not, is winning, they know no different; especially in the postseason, and it has never been more evident than it was Friday night.
“In this proud land we grew up strong, we were wanted all along. I was taught to fight taught to win, I never thought I could lose.”
Peter Gabriel sings those lines, but the Vikings lived them and, not that validation is needed, but for sports fans, our mere existence was validated by East Hall’s state playoff first-round win over South Atlanta.