Posted: Thursday, November 1st 2012 at 2:22pm
Rejuvenated North Hall surging toward region crown
By Morgan Lee Editor
GAINESVILLE -- Bob Christmas isn’t afraid to admit it: prior to the 2012 season, North Hall football needed a shake-up.
“I think things were getting a little stale,” said Christmas, whose coaching staff embarked on a massive re-tooling of the Trojans offense after the conclusion of a 4-6 2011 campaign -- North Hall’s first losing mark since Christmas’ first season in charge in 2001.
“I just think the timing was right. And right from the start the kids loved it.”
It took Christmas a little while to fully embrace the shift away from the tried-and-true wing-T approach, however -- an attack that helped North Hall claim region titles in 2004, ’06 and ’07 (a season that also included a Class AAA semifinal berth).
“Even after the first scrimmage and first game I wasn’t completely sure we had done the right thing,” Christmas said.
Eight games into 2012, you would be hard pressed to find any more doubters.
Currently 7-1 and undefeated in Region 7-AAA, North Hall stands one win removed from its first region crown in five seasons and is playing some of the best football seen at The Brickyard since its semifinal run of ’07.
“We’ve had a lot of excitement from these kids this season, and I think it’s big that we have a shot at winning another region title,” Christmas said.
The Trojans -- who are averaging 46 points per game on offense while allowing 12.2 on defense -- are doing much to erase memories of the 2010 and ’11 seasons, campaigns in which North Hall missed out on the state playoffs while compiling a 9-11 record. Prior to those years the Trojans had reached the postseason in seven of the eight seasons.
“It was really important that we had this kind of season,” Christmas said. “Kids are only in high school for four years, so if you have a couple of mediocre seasons in a row, you can see kids’ expectations start to drop. We didn’t want to create a culture of mediocrity, so it’s big that we’re winning like this and have a chance to play for a region title.”
Led by an imposing wishbone-style ground attack, North Hall has run over most opponents this season, averaging 383 yards rushing per contest split between a number of dangerous backs. TJ Tate leads the group with 601 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Kevin Christmas (570 yards, 5 TDs) and Zac Little (461 yards, 6 TDs) are close behind. Meanwhile, quarterbacks Bradley Brown (570 yards rushing, 10 TDs; 302 yards passing, 4 TDs) and Andrew Smith (390 yards rushing, 6 TDs; 59 yards passing, 6 TDs) are just as deadly with their ability to grind out key drives or hitting for big plays.
Meanwhile, the North Hall defense -- led by Smith’s 83 tackles at safety and linebacker Destin Bennett’s 77 stops -- is allowing just under 200 yards per contest.
“We’ve got some pretty mature kids, and they go out to practice each day to get better,” Christmas said. “I can count on one hand the number of practices we’ve had, since this summer, that I thought weren’t up to their usual level.”
The Trojans have also used their one defeat this season as a catalyst, bouncing back from a 27-21 loss to Jefferson -- a team that can also clinch the Region 8-AA crown on Friday -- to great effect, winning their next five contests by an average of 43.4 points.
That mission can include something very special in Friday night’s contest against Banks County (3-5, 2-3 Region 7-AAA) at The Brickyard, where the Trojans can wrap up the 7-AAA title before venturing south to face Buford in the final regular season game. And even though that finale may no longer carry with it the cache of being a region championship showdown (Buford was forced to forfeit two lopsided region wins after turning itself in for using an ineligible player) Christmas knows his team will have plenty at stake against the third-ranked Wolves (5-3, 3-2) on Nov. 9.
“It’s important for us to play well that night, because we’re trying to get better every week,” Christmas said. “We’ll be going up against a great team with a great tradition, so we’ll need to be really focused and ready.”
Christmas believes that focus won’t be overlooked this week either.
“I don’t have to address much with this team; they know they want to finish strong,” Christmas said. “From what I’ve seen at practice this week I think our kids will play well.”
BANKS COUNTY at NORTH HALL
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: The Brickyard, Gainesville
-- BANKS (3-5, 2-3 Region 7-AAA): Lost to East Hall 56-20 last week.
-- NORTH HALL (7-1, 5-0 Region 7-AAA): Defeated West Hall 48-10 last week.
-- HISTORY: This is the two teams’ first meeting.
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