North Hall at St. Pius X
When: 7:30 p.m. tonight
Where: George B. Maloof Stadium, Atlanta
On radio: 102.9-FM, 1330-AM
Directions: From Gainesville, take Interstate-985 South to I-85 and exit at Shallowford Road (Exit No. 93). Take a right on Shallowford Road and make an immediate U-Turn on Shallowford Road. Turn right on Johnson Road. The school is located at 2674 Johnson Road Atlanta, GA 30345.
While it may have gone under the radar at the time, North Hall’s Peyton Wilhoite wrote a letter to the local newspaper as part of a class project last year. He used the letter, which was published, as a platform to generate community support for the football program as it tried to win the school’s first road playoff game against Dunwoody.
Wilhoite and the Trojans didn’t win the game against the Wildcats, which would have been the end of this chapter in Wilhoite’s life, had he been in his final season with the program.
However, Wilhoite, now a senior, is back for more this year in a season that parallels 2008. North Hall survived a tough first-round playoff game against Ringgold last Friday, which was just as physical as last year’s first-round game against Hart County at The Brickyard.
The reward, if you haven’t guessed already, is a road playoff game in the second round and another stab at gaining that elusive first road playoff win for the Trojans. This year, North Hall (9-2) is trying to pick up that win at Class AAA’s third-ranked St. Pius X (11-0), only a few miles from the site of last year’s second-round game at Chamblee High.
And after last season’s disappointment, Wilhoite, a running back and linebacker, still has the drive to leave his fingerprint on the school’s football program, maybe even more so now that he’s a senior.
“We all still have that drive to succeed as a program, while other teams may have started to tucker out,” Wilhoite said. “We feel like our team has the potential to go as far as we want in the playoffs.”
And Wilhoite isn’t the only one that feels that way.
“Our goal all year was to win the region title, and even though we didn’t accomplish that, we still feel like we have a good shot at winning the state title,” Trojans senior lineman Kyle Olson said.
The catalyst behind North Hall’s season is the tradition carried by its senior class, says North Hall coach Bob Christmas. During their four years in the Trojans program, they’ve been a part of a collective 42 wins (10.5 per season), two Region 7-AAA titles and state quarterfinal appearances in 2006 and 2007.
Each of the past two seasons, North Hall has won the North subregion and started the playoffs at The Brickyard.
They’ve also been one of only four Class AAA programs in the state to make the second round of the playoffs each of the past four seasons (Carrollton, Carver-Columbus and Cairo).
All the wins are great in Christmas’ eyes. He’d love to take another group back to play in the Georgia Dome, like the 2007 Trojans that made the state semifinals.
However, this group is classified most accurately with the attitude they bring to the program.
“We don’t have any egos on this team,” Christmas said. “They all genuinely like each other.”
“There’s no tension at all with this group,” assistant coach Dave Bishop said. “They’re an amazing group of kids.
“I’m gonna hate to lose these seniors at the end of the year.”
The Trojans’ senior leadership starts with the captains — linebacker Ben Booth, quarterback/safety Nathan Jones and Wilhoite.
They account for many of the key touchdowns, big hits, interceptions and emotional leadership for the group. They also shine in the classroom, where Jones and Wilhoite both carry a 4.3 grade point average and are in the top 20 in their senior class.
In the first round of the playoffs, Wilhoite rushed for 180 yards and three touchdowns against Ringgold. Jones also added a big interception for North Hall late in the fourth quarter.
According to Olson, the turning point in the season was a come-from-behind win against Flowery Branch, and a seven-game winning streak to end the regular season to secure the subregion title for the fourth consecutive season.
“That win against Flowery Branch brought out the heart in this team,” Olson said. “We play with a lot of heart.”
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that this team is still in contention to do something never done before in the program’s history. North Hall’s seniors went undefeated in the junior varsity ranks as freshmen and sophomores.
And with a win against St. Pius, North Hall’s seniors will make the state quarterfinals for the third time in high school. There’s also an outside shot that North Hall could come back home to play in front of its fans at The Brickyard.
“We’re going to go out there against St. Pius and play as hard as we can,” Booth said. “We’re just going to play North Hall football.”