North Hall played its best late Friday against Cedar Grove. However, a fourth-quarter surge was not enough for the Trojans (9-3) to climb out of the hole they dug themselves early on, as they eventually fell to the second-ranked Saints 49-33 in the second round of the Class 3A state playoffs inside William Godfrey Stadium in Decatur.
“I can’t be any more proud of them,” North Hall coach David Bishop said of his team. “(Cedar Grove is) a team that’s going to have kids playing Saturdays, kids playing Sundays in the next few years. That’s a very talented football team.”
The Trojans started the game off slow, turning the ball over on three fumbles in their first five offensive snaps. The Saints (11-2) turned those extra possessions into 13 points, jumping out to an early lead.
North Hall found some offensive footing to end the opening frame, getting on the board with a field goal to draw within 10. But Cedar Grove’s rushing attack — led by Robert Jones’ 89 yards and two touchdowns on seven carries to go along with a 25-yard touchdown on his lone reception — proved too much for the Trojans to keep up with.
By halftime, North Hall was trailing 35-3, and in need of a spark.
“We challenged them at halftime to just come out and finish strong, finish with character, which is what we built this program on,” Bishop said.
Bishop’s challenge proved to be just what the team needed to get things back on track.
North Hall came out of the half with a surprise onside kick attempt on the kickoff to open the third quarter and appeared to recover, inciting cheers from the Trojan student section. And while the referees eventually decided to rule that the ball did not travel far enough on the onside attempt, negating the play, the energy it infused the team with seemed to last.
“The second half for us, our coaches said just go out there, have fun, and just play,” North Hall quarterback David Seavey said.
The strategy seemed to work for the Trojans.
The defense forced a few stops, and midway through the third quarter, the offense started to catch up. Daniel Jackson — who finished the game with 110 yards rushing and a touchdown on eight totes — took a pitch 70 yards down the right sideline for the Trojans first touchdown of the game. North Hall scored again to open the fourth quarter on a 3-yard plunge from Drew Faulkner that made the score 42-17.
“I was not going to take our older kids out,” Bishop said. “That was their opportunity to finish their season together, to fight. The big thing was they were going to fight together and fight to that last tick on the clock.”
Faulkner scored again later in the quarter, and JT Fair picked up a touchdown as well, but the scores were too little, too late, as time eventually ran out on the Trojans. With the loss, North Hall’s season — one of the best in recent program history — comes to a close.
“You can’t take away anything from the way they performed all year,” Bishop said. “They set so many school records, just changed the standard. There’s so many things to be proud of. Last year, the team was 4-7, and a year later they’re 9-3. Just a great group of kids to be associated with.”