North Hall and St. Pius X don’t play in the same region for football. These two schools aren’t even rivals in the traditional sense.
However, it would be an incorrect to say that the Trojans (1-0) don’t place an added sense of value on tonight’s game at The Brickyard. During the second round of the 2009 Class AAA state playoffs, the Golden Lions came away with a 17-3 win against the Trojans in Chamblee.
Now, North Hall hopes to return the favor with the game in Gainesville this time around, even if it is just one game in a long season.
“Absolutely, we want to beat them,” said North Hall lineman Chase Strickland, a starter in last year’s game against St. Pius. “We’ve worked so hard to prepare, and its our goal to go 10-0 during the regular season.
“What happened last year, we have to throw that out. That was last year and we just got to focus on this season.”
North Hall coach Bob Christmas says he remembers last season’s matchup against St. Pius vividly. Christmas says the game started on a promising note for the Trojans with a first-quarter drive that went deep into Golden Tigers territory, but stalled and had to settle for a field goal — their only points of the game.
“I remember we got downfield on a long pass to Trevor Ross down to the 2,” Christmas said. “Then we jumped offsides, but (quarterback) Nathan Jones got the yards back on the next play, then we jump offsides again on the very next play.”
Trailing 7-3 at halftime, Christmas says he felt good about their chances in the second half. However, a fumbled kickoff return gave St. Pius excellent field position at the 25, but it failed to capitalize on the opportunity.
What hindered the Trojans most in the second half of that playoff game was going three-and-out on back-to-back drives and forced to punt in their final two possessions.
“I remember we made lots of little mistakes in that game,” North Hall senior Randy Olson said. “We got a little lazy.”
Another thing that set that game apart was the fact that it was almost exclusively running plays (57 of 65 combined) between two teams that like to play smash-mouth football. Although North Hall is opening things up a little more this season with the passing game, the Trojans expect the same straight-ahead running with the veer that made St. Pius so successful last year.
“You cant let a team like St. Pius get 3 yards a clip,” Christmas said. “They love a third-and-one or fourth-and-1, because they know they can make it.”
While Golden Lions coach Paul Standard appreciates the compliments, he’s worried his program’s injuries may be a big factor this week. St. Pius opened the 2010 season with a loss to Westminster, but rebounded with a big win against Savannah’s Benedictine in Week 2.
Standard says North Hall is probably the best team on St. Pius’ regular season schedule.
“North Hall has outstanding players and are as well coached as any team that I’ve faced in 10 years at St. Pius,” Standard said.
North Hall scheduled the game against St. Pius after the region meetings for the 2010 season. With difficulty finding a team to fill the void in the schedule, Christmas opted to schedule St. Pius to gain some experience against a quality local opponent, rather than traveling across the state for a game. This game is sandwiched between a tough pair of games not in the subregion, including last Friday’s win against Jefferson, 24-21, and next week’s game against arch rival Gainesville (1-1) at The Brickyard.
Christmas says playing tough early season matchups makes the team that much stronger for the games that determine playoff seeding in the subregion.
“A lot of it has to do with mental toughness,” Christmas said. “We want to play teams that are going to challenge us for 48 minutes.
“We know that St. Pius X has a good set of skill players.”
“We expect a very physical game that is well played in terms of fundamentals, just like last year’s playoff game where either team could have won the game,” Standard said.
Christmas expects junior tailback Imani Cross to play tonight, but didn’t give an estimate to how many reps he’ll be in the backfield. Cross, a 1,400-yard rusher last season, is coming off Achillies tendon surgery from the spring.