The North Hall football team played a wild, back-and-forth battle for a No. 2 seed to the playoffs against Dawson County on Friday night at the Brickyard. But after six lead changes, five touchdown plays of 40 yards or greater and a couple of defensive scores, the Trojans came out on top 40-37, earning the second seed out of Region 7-3A as well as the ever-coveted home playoff game to start the postseason. North Hall will host Lovett for a first-round playoff game next Friday at Lynn Cottrell Field
“Our kids did what they needed to do,” North Hall coach David Bishop said after the game. “I couldn’t be any more proud of them right now.”
On senior night, it was fittingly the Trojan’s fourth-year players that did the most damage against the Tigers.
Though he ended up leaving the game early in the third quarter with an injury, senior running back JT Fair managed to compile 14 carries for 186 yards and two touchdowns in little more than a half played. Senior quarterback Trey Sanders and fellow senior Luke Volle were on the same page throughout the night, as Sanders connected with Volle on three passes for 120 yards and a touchdown, and Volle also returned an interception 45 yards for a score to give North Hall its first lead of the game in the second quarter.
The contest was destined to be a shootout from the beginning, as Dawson County needed only five plays and less than two minutes to travel 56 yards down the field and go up 7-0 early in the first quarter. The Trojans responded with a touchdown from Fair to cap off their own two-minute scoring drive, but the Tigers got into the end zone again on their ensuing possession to wrestle back in front.
The North Hall defense kept the team alive with a safety and Volle’s interception return in the second quarter, and Fair’s second touchdown of the game — this one coming from 68 yards out with less than a minute left to play in the opening half — put the Trojans on top going into the break.
The lead allowed North Hall to play the methodical, grind-out-the-clock brand of football that suits the team so well throughout the second half. The Trojans scored on a couple of five minute drives that served the dual purpose of killing the clock and keeping Dawson County at bay.
Then, with 10 minutes remaining in the game, North Hall took eight minutes to drive all the way down the field and kick a field goal to go up two scores with less than two minutes left to go. Though the Tigers managed a quick score to draw within three points of the lead, it was too little too late, as the Trojans managed to run out the remainder of the game following a failed onside kick attempt.
On the final night of last year’s regular season, North Hall traveled to Dawson County and watched a late lead evaporate in an eventual overtime loss. It’s not a defeat that senior Luke Volle has forgotten in the year since.
“After last year’s heartbreaking loss to Dawson, this means a lot to us,” Volle said.
Volle’s play backed up his words.
Though the Trojans dialed up only seven passes on the night, the senior receiver took advantage of every opportunity he had, reeling in passes of 26, 34, and 60 yards. Two of his catches came on third down, and all three went for either first downs or touchdowns.
Volle also made an impact defensively, reading the eyes of Tigers quarterback Zach Holtzclaw in the second quarter to grab an interception near midfield and streaking down the right sideline for a score to put North Hall into the lead.
“We talked all week, guys, some of you are going to have to step up and play out of your heads in order for us to get this win,” Bishop said. “Luke’s one of those guys who stepped up to do what he needed to do to get that win for his team.”
DEFENSE PICKS UP THE SLACK
Prior to Fair’s long touchdown right before halftime, North Hall’s offense struggled heavily in the second quarter. The Trojans traveled just 28 yards before the 68-yard rush from Fair, had a field goal blocked and turned the ball over on downs once, too.
Despite the difficulties, the Trojans managed to outscore the Tigers 16-7 in the second frame. Bishop can thank his defense for that.
In addition to Volle’s interception return, North Hall also scored on a safety early in the period that shifted the momentum into the home team’s favor for the first time all game. Following the game, Bishop could not overstate the importance of those nine defensive points in keeping his Trojans in the contest.
“Big, big, big, big,” he said of the defensive scoring. “The defense came and played.”
PLAYING HARD WHEN IT MATTERS
Last year’s regular season ended on a sour note for North Hall after the Trojans failed to gain a first down in a crucial situation against Dawson County, allowing the Tigers to tie the game and eventually win it in overtime.
It was a loss that stayed with the North Hall players throughout the offseason, and spurred them on to train harder and prepare more thoroughly this year. The team got a chance at redemption late in the rematch Friday night, and this time the Trojans did what they needed to do.
Leading by three points with two minutes to go in the game, North Hall got a spark from an unexpected source. Senior Cody Smith — who had only three carries in the game and did not touch the ball until the fourth quarter — broke off a 44-yard run on second and long down the right sideline. The carry capped off a team performance that included 394 rushing yards and more than 500 yards total.
More important than the final numbers; however, was the fact that the Trojans played as hard in the fourth quarter as they did in the first.
“Tonight was just a testimony to the hard work they’ve put in in the offseason,” Bishop said. “They could rely on some of that tough stuff to come out when they needed to. I’m happy for them.”