Lights, camera, action.
The time has come for the North Hall High football team to take the stage in the AAA state semifinals against Cairo at the Georgia Dome. Today’s game is a reward for the Trojans (13-0) making it through the first three rounds of the playoffs unbeaten. But North Hall doesn’t plan on stopping yet.
The Trojans need a win against the Syrupmakers (12-1) to earn a spot in the state title game.
North Hall is going to be right in the glare of the bright lights of the 80,000-seat dome, and will be fully aware of the camera lights broadcasting the game for fans all over the state to see.
But that’s no pressure for these guys. They’ve handled every obstacle thrown their way this season with challenging playoff games against Sandy Creek and Perry.
"We can’t treat this game any different than any other. We just have to play North Hall football," Trojans senior lineman Colin Alford said. "My goal is to never look up at the big crowd in the stands and just concentrate on playing football.
"I never look at the crowd here at the games at The Brickyard."
North Hall players have enjoyed being the center of attention around the school’s campus all week with a buzz leading up to this semifinal matchup. But they have to block out all of the hysteria once they put on the pads.
"This is very exciting; it’s been crazy around school this week," North Hall senior lineman Seth Hewell said. "Once we get on the field, we’re going to do what we do every week. We are so focused."
North Hall coach Bob Christmas has two primary focuses in preparation for this game. The Trojans coach has to have the team ready to play its toughest opponent of the season and have them comfortable playing in such a unique environment.
Everything is different playing at the Georgia Dome. For instance, players only have 30 minutes to warm up on the field to prepare for kickoff. And it’s also unique to play on an artificial surface that has more give than natural grass.
"We want to make this experience fun for our players, but at the same time not lose focus of our goal, which is to win a football game," Christmas said.
North Hall’s challenge against the Syrupmakers is legitimate. Cairo has shown the strength of its defense in Region 1-AAA with shutout wins against Worth County, Monroe, Crisp County and a shutout win against Benedictine in the first round of the playoffs.
The stats for the Syrupmakers’ defense don’t lie. Cairo is only allowing 107 yards of rushing yards per game. It’s defense is led by junior tackle Montavious Williams and ends Logan Bennett and Terrell Perkins.
That makes for an interesting matchup with the Trojans’ running game that is averaging 331.5 yards on the ground per game. Hunter Wolf (1,381 yards), Bobby Epps (1,027 yards), Dylon Wolf (489 yards) and Fabian Jackson (427 yards) are all a major part of North Hall’s running attack.
"We know Cairo is going to play hard and are a well-coached team," Christmas added. "What they’re going to try to do on defense is take our bread-and-butter away."
On offense, the Syrupmakers are paced by junior quarterback Angelo Pease. Cairo’s quarterback has passed for 1,015 yards and 635 yards rushing.
Cairo also has a strong running backfield with junior Reginald Bryant (1,244 yards and 23 touchdowns). He’s played his best football in the past seven games with 940 yards.
"We know Cairo is smaller than us, but they’re also faster, so we have to make sure and stay on our assignments and be ready to play," Trojans lineman Alex Tasich said.
Johnathan Bryant is Cairo’s leading target on the perimeter with 19 catches for 395 yards.
"They (Cairo) are basic in their offensive formation going about 50-percent out of the power or counter formation, and they throw the football about 25 percent of the time," Christmas said. "They are very similar to the Washington County team we played in the quarterfinals last season."
If North Hall wins today, the Trojans will play Carver-Columbus winner next weekend.
"Everything has paid off for us this season, but we’re not satisfied yet," Tasich added.