For the second straight season, North Hall stands as the last Hall County team remaining in high school football playoffs.
In an effort to keep it that way, the Trojans will travel to Cordele this evening to take on Crisp County in a battle for a spot in the Class 3A state quarterfinals.
“We’re all looking forward to it,” said North Hall defensive end Austin Sullens. “We’re just trying to get prepared, make sure we handle our things as much as we can handle, as much as we can control. We’re all very excited.”
For the second game in a row, the Trojans will be without starters JT Fair and Dalton Battle, but the team has grown accustomed to playing at less than full strength over the course of the season.
The year has produced a litany of North Hall (8-3) injuries, challenging the Trojans during the regular season, but providing them with valuable experience now that they’ve reached the playoffs.
Senior lineman Micah Holman said beating Lovett last week, even with Fair and Battle sidelined, provided the team with the necessary belief and motivation to make up for the crucial absences.
“That was a very, very big confidence booster for us,” he said. “It just kind of showed us that we can do it without those guys. Although we’d love to have them with us, it shows how we can really play as a team without them.”
North Hall is facing a Crisp County team that mirrors the Trojans in a lot of ways.
The Cougars (8-3) run the ball more than twice as often as they throw it. They have been led this season by a committee of running backs, featuring Marquise Palmer and AJ Lofton — who combined to rush for more than 170 yards a game in the regular season.
“They run the ball well, and we’re pretty good against the run,” Trojans coach David Bishop said. “We run the ball well, and they’re pretty good against the run. You get strength against strength on both sides of the ball, which is kind of interesting.”
The similarity in play style is likely to turn the contest into a battle of wills, with only one winning strategy for both teams.
“We’re just going to have to come out and play tough and physical,” Holman said. “It’s going to be a physical battle.”
Among the focuses for North Hall will be starting on a strong note, which has been an issue in wins against Lovett and Dawson County over the last two weeks.
Both teams drove right down the field and scored on their first drives, putting the Trojans in early holes. The margin for error is only getting smaller as the games go on, and the team knows that anymore first-quarter gaffes could be season ending.
Beyond that, North Hall will stick to its usual formula of holding the ball as long as possible on offense, dominating the time of possession and controlling the game, just like the team did in the second half against Lovett last Friday.
“I know last week, we had 26 first downs in the game, and I think Lovett snapped the ball three times in the fourth quarter,” Bishop said. “If we can do that, I feel real good about where we are.”