The North Hall football season will extend at least one more week.
The Trojans hosted Lovett Friday night for a first-round Class 3A playoff game, and the formula for victory was the same one the team has leaned on all season. North Hall compiled 333 rushing yards on 66 carries on the day, dominating time of possession and moving past the Lions 24-21.
With the win, the Trojans will travel to take on Crisp County next Friday in Cordele.
“I felt we played really well,” said junior running back Clark Howell, who led the way for the team with 187 yards and three touchdowns on 33 carries. “I loved the way we kept fighting. It was a close game pretty much the whole game. I knew if we kept it close we’d be able to win. We played with a lot of passion, a lot of heart. I’m glad we came out with the victory.”
Lovett jumped out to an early 7-0 lead in the game, scoring on a two-minute, four-play drive to start the contest, but it was pretty much all North Hall for the rest of the opening half. Howell scored a pair of 1-yard touchdowns to cap off six-minute Trojan drives in the first and second quarter to put the home team on top 14-7.
The Lions managed to score a quick touchdown right at the end of the second quarter to tie things up at halftime, and went back on top early in the third, but the Trojans defense completely clamped down the rest of the way. A third quarter field goal and another Howell touchdown early in the final frame gave the lead back to North Hall, and the narrow advantage was all the Trojans needed to finish things off.
Lovett punted after a three-and-out with seven minutes remaining in the game, allowing North Hall to march down the field on 13 plays, picking up five first downs and sealing the win without letting the Lions see the ball for the remainder of the contest.
“Like I said all year, these kids have been resilient,” North Hall coach David Bishop said after the win. “They’ve fought back and forth all year. ... What a great team effort.”
CLARK HOWELL TAKES OVER
Coming into the game, running back was a position of legitimate concern for North Hall. Leading rusher JT Fair suffered an ankle injury in last week’s regular season finale against Dawson County, forcing him to miss Friday’s contest, leaving the Trojans in desperate need of someone to pick up the slack.
Howell obliged with gusto, picking up 187 yards and scoring three touchdowns on his 33 carries.
He found consistent success throughout the game, accounting for all three North Hall touchdowns, but did perhaps his best work in the game’s closing minutes. On North Hall’s final drive, Howell rushed for four first downs to keep the ball out of the Lovett offense’s hands, including a game-clinching 2-yard rush to pick up a new set of downs with under two minutes left in the game.
“Not having JT, I knew we had to step up in the backfield and kind of fill his role,” Howell said. “I was able to do that tonight. I’m proud I was able to help out the team in that way.”
Though North Hall played to a draw with Lovett in the first half and trailed early in the second, the Trojans could not have dominated the final 21 minutes of the game any more thoroughly.
North Hall allowed just 33 total yards to finish things off, holding the ball for 18 minutes and 11 seconds in that period, including nearly 11 minutes in the fourth quarter alone. Lovett gained just 3 yards in the fourth quarter on one three-and-out drive.
It’s exactly the type of game the Trojans pride themselves in winning, none more so than Bishop.
“It’s pretty awesome,” he said of his team’s lopsided time of possession in the contest. “It’s what we call Wing T-ing people.”
HOME SWEET HOME
The Trojans have had a history of struggling in road playoff games, but the fans inside Lynn Cottrell Stadium have seen plenty of postseason success.
Friday’s win marks the 11th straight home playoff victory for North Hall, a streak that started long before any of the current members of the team arrived at the school. The Trojans are 13-2 all time in home playoff tilts.
“Our kids knew that chances were this is the last time the seniors were going to play at home unless something crazy happened,” Bishop said. “They wanted to give a good show to everybody.”
“It feels good, because you would hate to be the first team to lose in a home playoff game here,” Howell added. “It feels really good to be able to continue that on.”