Five weeks into the season, the North Hall High football team was staring at a winless record.
But even that wasn’t enough to put the Trojans down for the count.
With their season on the line Friday night, the Trojans played with a determination that Union County High could not trump, wearing the Panthers’ defense down with 441 rushing yards and producing in all three phases to win 55-34 at the Brickyard in Gainesville.
A celebration ensued for coach David Bishop and his players as chants and cheers came from his postgame debriefing on the field. The win mathematically put North Hall (3-5, 3-1 Region 7-3A) into the playoffs as Fannin, Lumpkin County and Union County (4-4, 0-4) sit winless in region play.
“You know, when it comes to character, that is the thing we’ve preached and preached. Going into the season, no one even gave these guys a chance to be in the playoffs,” Bishop said. “Starting off 0-4, and just to overcome that is just tremendous. Shows tremendous character on their part.”
The Trojans also extended their unbeaten streak while sporting black jerseys to 10 games and beat Union County for the first time in the all-time series.
Daniel Jackson and Drew Faulkner (167 rushing yards) had two touchdowns apiece for North Hall. Jackson (241 all-purpose yards) added a 93-yard kick return for a touchdown midway through the second quarter that proved to be a game-changer.
It broke all momentum for the Panthers, who saw senior quarterback and Army pledge Cole Wright (26 of 39, 387 yards, three total touchdowns) toss scoring strikes to Austin Pattee (12 catches, 147 yards) and Sawyer Drake (148 yards) on back-to-back possessions. Drake’s 60-yard catch-and-dash touchdown off a skinny post momentarily tied the game at 20-20.
“We told the kids, ‘They’re gonna give you their best shot tonight,’” Bishop said. “The only chance they had to get into the playoffs was to win tonight.”
The Trojans intercepted Wright twice and recovered a pair of fumbles. And early in the third quarter, a goal-line stand that had the Panthers stumped by the nose of the football resulted in a Trojans’ 99-yard scoring drive — possibly their longest in program history.
“That was the big turnaround,” Bishop said of the stop. “At that point, it put question marks on their defense of whether or not they could stop us.”
Bishop said the Trojans weathered a storm to come out ahead at intermission. And it was evident to all watching this was a game of two teams fighting for a playoff berth, with 500 yards of offense and a combined 55 points on the board before halftime.
The Trojans got on the board on the game’s opening drive, though they were slow getting out the gates. They almost couldn’t get out of their own way as a 27-yard touchdown scamper by Daniel Jackson was negated by called chop block, and a holding penalty three snaps later dismissed a first-down pass play.
North Hall eventually nudged its way down to the 1-inch line, and Drew Faulkner scored the first of his two rushing touchdowns of the half.
Wright answered right back on the ensuing drive, completing his first three throws for 30 yards before scoring on an 8-yard keeper minutes later.
The Trojans’ trademark ground-and-pound attack was then put on a brief hiatus. Quarterback David Seavey (6 of 7, 103 yards) completed passes of 22 and 29 yards to put the Trojans inside the Union County 20-yard line, and the junior hit senior Noah Holman for a 9-yard score for a 14-7 lead.
Jackson’s 42-yard scoring scamper up the gut and kick return for a touchdown were sandwiched in between two Wright touchdown passes. A Brady DeHass fumble recovery set up North Hall for its final scoring drive of the half, which was capped by a Faulkner 1-yard scoring plunge to give the Trojans a 14-point lead.
North Hall visits Greater Atlanta Christian next Friday for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff in Lilburn.