North Hall coach Bob Christmas spoke the words that were at the tip of everyone’s tongue after its 10-9 win over Hart County in the first round of Friday’s state playoffs at The Brickyard.
"That was kind of like Perry, wasn’t it?" Christmas said.
The Trojans (8-3) watched Hart County place-kicker Zain Rowland shank a 47-yard field goal wide left with 10 seconds left to play, to send North Hall into the second round of the AAA state playoffs to face Dunwoody next Friday.
Last year, it was Perry’s kicker that missed a last second field goal at The Brickyard — on the same side of the field — in the state quarterfinals, which ensured North Hall’s trip to state semifinals at the Georgia Dome.
"I think it all comes down to heart and desire of this team," Christmas said. "Before the year started, nobody gave this team a chance to be successful, and I think that was a challenge to them.
"I’m so proud of the way we played tonight."
North Hall’s win over the Bulldogs was much more excitement in the final minutes than just one missed kick. North Hall’s Jake Dunn kicked a 29-yard field goal with 2:43 left to play for the deciding score. Dunn also averaged 40 yards on his punts.
The final minutes of the game also included clutch fourth-down conversions on both sides, suspenseful timeouts that left both sides eager to see what was going to come next and some amazing defensive play by both teams.
But in the end it was North Hall’s defense that held Hart County from getting in scoring range on its last-minute drive, forcing a long field goal that was well left of the upright on a slippery surface.
The miss sent North Hall to the second round of the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
"There’s just this passion we have, and we just all come together as a team," North Hall senior running back Avery Nix said. "And we just seem to find a way to getter better every day and have a great time together."
Nix helped ensure North Hall’s game-winning field goal with the team’s biggest run of the night. On fourth-and-1 at the Trojans 39, he got the ball and burst 22 yards through the line down to the Hart County 39. Christmas said it wasn’t an easy call to go for it with almost seven minutes left to play.
Before making the call to attempt the risky fourth down, the Trojans’ coach consulted his defensive coaching staff before going for it to avoid putting them in a potentially tough situation.
"I asked our defensive coaches, and they said ‘we can get a yard,’ so I decided to go for it," Christmas said.
After Nix’s big fourth-down conversion run, he followed with runs of 10, 4, 2, 5, 3 and 1 yard, followed by a 5-yard run from senior Graham Duncan to set up Dunn’s kick. Nix finished with a team-high 104 yards and a touchdown for the Trojans.
"He just kept giving it to me, and it’s all the credit to the offensive line," Nix said. "They really stepped up and played a great game.
"We all made it happen together for the team."
North Hall’s defense was the main reason for its win. The Trojans held a talented Hart County running game to only 135 yards on the ground, and only 206 yards of total offense. Thomas Sprague and Nathan Jones each led the way for the Trojans with 19 tackles each. Sam Weaver’s 12 tackles and Peyton Wilhoite’s nine tackles were also big for North Hall.
Sprague also had a first quarter fumble recovery for the Trojans.
"Our defense just played out of their heads," Christmas said. "With the backs they (Hart) had, I thought that was just a phenomenal job."
North Hall’s defense also kept the Bulldogs’ offense out of the end zone. Hart’s Quinn Stughill intercepted a Trojan pass, which led to a 23-yard field goal in the first quarter. The Bulldogs’ lone touchdown was a 68-yard fumble return by Stughill.
John Blackwell led Hart’s offense with 22 carries for 112 yards. The Bulldogs’ season is now complete.