An explosive start proved to be a springboard for North Hall High School to secure a big, 49-14, win over cross-county rival East Hall High School at The Brickyard Friday night.
The victory moves the Trojans to 4-0 on the season and 2-0 in Region 8-A AAAA.
“That’s important, obviously, having the two region wins,” North Hall Head Coach Sean Pender said. “But we’re about to run the gauntlet.”
On the second play of the game from scrimmage, the Vikings (2-2, 1-2 Region 8-A AAAA) threw the ball out on a quick screen. The receiver caught the ball and subsequently fumbled the ball. North Hall scooped the ball up and scored.
But did they?
After signaling a touchdown, the referees got together and decided to overturn the call and say it was incomplete.
The very next play, senior linebacker Zeke Harris intercepted a pass from East Hall sophomore quarterback Jamarcus Harrison. Harris ran the ball back for the touchdown.
After forcing a punt on the ensuing drive, the Trojans broke their very first play from scrimmage for a 52-yard touchdown run by senior Tate Ruth (16 car, 163 yds, TD).
From there, it would take another 13 minutes, 19 seconds before North Hall would get back on the board.
“We came out a little slow, defense came out hot,” Trojans’ senior quarterback Tanner Marsh said. “Then it was really just trying to fix our mental mistakes. We were hurting ourselves a lot.”
Pender said he thinks the quick scores from Harris’ interception and Ruth’s sprint to the endzone contributed to the offense getting off to a slow start because they weren’t able to get into a rhythm.
In the middle of that, Harrison (15-of-30, 211 yds, 2 TD, 2 INT) found sophomore Chasen Jones (11 rec, 157 yds, TD) on a 7-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead in half.
When North Hall did get back into scoring, it was Marsh that crossed the goal line on a 14-yard run.
With 8:13 left in the first half, Harrison tossed a 9-yard touchdown pass to Jevon Harrison for the final points of the game for the Vikings.
East Hall finished the game with 334 total yards of offense. Only 84 of that was on the ground.
“We got a really good game plan. We knew what they were going to do and we were going to stop everything they had and they were going to have to try some tricky stuff,” Harris said of his defense. “They did get us on a few things and we had some mistakes. I feel like, overall, we really shut them down and we were really prepared for the game.”
North Hall tacked on another score before halftime with a pop pass (a forward touch by the quarterback on a shotgun snap to a player crossing behind the offensive line) to Ryals Puryear (5 rec, 44 yds, TD), who found the edge for a 9-yard scamper.
On the final play of the first half, Harrison was trying to escape getting sacked and ultimately floated a ball to the middle of the field. Harris snatched the ball out of the air for his second interception of the game and returned the ball from deep in Trojan territory to the Vikings’ 20 yard line.
North Hall faked the pop pass to Puryear, which allowed Marsh to roll out to his right and find Ty Kemp in the back of the endzone for a wide open touchdown.
The Vikings were double and sometimes triple teaming Puryear when he was lined up on the perimeter. The Trojans’ coaching staff noticed this and called a play for Korbyn Sosebee (3 rec, 105 yds, 2 TD).
Sosebee caught 59-and-39-yard touchdown passes on back-to-back drives using the exact same play with Puryear as a decoy.
“We had it and we saw it at halftime,” Pender said. “The way they were playing, they were going to put three over there on Ryals, then we were going to have the matchup to give (Sosebee) the opportunity to catch the ball on the post. Sure enough, he had two opportunities and he took advantage of them.”
Marsh finished the game with a school-record four touchdown passes on 10-of-13 pass attempts for 187 yards. He also added 57 yards and the score on six carries.
The running game was strong for the Trojans as the team finished with 279 yards on the ground.
“I’m glad our run game was really strong tonight,” Marsh said. “That was good for our offensive line to get that confidence.”
Pender said his team will be able to look at how they were able to run the ball between the tackles and the way they overcame adversity of penalties and stalled drives in this game to carry with them the rest of the year.
The focus next turns to Cherokee Bluff, another in-county region opponent.
“We have to go to Cherokee Bluff and that’s a tough rivalry game,” Pender said. “That game is going to be a hard-fought game. You can throw records out. That’s not even going to matter.”
For the weekend, the Trojans will celebrate the win over East Hall and their currently perfect record.
“It’s homecoming, obviously it’s a big win against a rival school,” Harris said. “We’re 4-0. We have a lot of momentum going through the rest of region play. We just have a lot of hope for the future.
“We’re feeling good. We’re 4-0. Why stop now?”
North Hall will go on the road to Cherokee Bluff and East Hall will host Cedar Shoals on Friday, September 22.
Game Note: Trojans’ senior place kicker Akim Reyes is perfect in his point after touchdown attempts (23/23) and field goal attempts (1/1) this season.