Posted: Thursday, November 14th 2013 at 2:29pm
North Hall looking to end one streak, maintain another on Friday
By Morgan Lee Editor
NORTH HALL at RINGGOLD
-- WHAT: Class AAA football playoffs, first round
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: Don Patterson Stadium, Ringgold
-- NORTH HALL (8-2, No. 3 seed Region 7-AAA): Lost 42-14 to No. 1 Buford last week.
-- RINGGOLD (8-2, No. 2 seed Region 6-AAA): Lost 33-16 to No. 2 Cartersville last week.
-- HISTORY: North Hall defeated Ringgold 39-21 in the first round of the 2009 Class AAA playoffs.
-- WINNER PLAYS: Elbert County vs. Cedar Grove winner
GAINESVILLE -- North Hall football has never won a road playoff game.
Ringgold football has never won a state tournament contest, period.
Something has to give on Friday night in Ringgold -- and it is shaping up to be an intense battle between the Trojans and Tigers, who are eager to put an end to two unwanted streaks.
“It’s a challenge, but we just throw it out to the players and let them deal with it,” North Hall coach Bob Christmas said. “They know about it and want to do something about it.”
North Hall is 12-8 in the postseason during Christmas’ previous 12 seasons -- including last year’s Class AAA semifinal appearance (one of two semifinal charges under Christmas), and the Trojans know what to expect now that each game is an elimination situation.
“The kids are excited, and they know the season has started over,” said Christmas, who adds that his staff changes nothing for the postseason compared to the regular season. “We treat the playoffs just like the first day of practice.”
And you can expect the Trojans to treat Friday night’s Class AAA showdown just like a regular season game -- meaning North Hall will stick with a power ground game that is churning out 362.7 rush yards per contest.
That said the Trojans know they will have to earn every yard.
“Ringgold is a very, very good team,” Christmas said. “They’ve got a big defensive front, a very aggressive and athletic group of linebackers and an athletic group in the secondary. I’ve been very impressed by what I’ve seen on film.”
And what Ringgold may lack in postseason experience -- this will be the Tigers’ fourth ever state playoff game -- they more than make up for with ability.
“We’ve got to win the battle up front,” Christmas said. “They’ve got two big, strong lines of scrimmage. Of course I feel like that’s our strength too.”
Tigers coach Robert Akins -- who led Ringgold to a 6-5 record and first round loss at North Oconee last season -- is also expecting a grinding, physical battle.
“We’re a lot alike,” Akins said. “The offensive and defensive line battles will tell a lot in this game.”
To that end, North Hall’s offensive line will certainly be aware of Ringgold defensive end Zach Morris. The 6-foot-4, 265-pound junior has registered 10.5 sacks and forced four fumbles so far this season and is garnering interest from programs such as Georgia, Auburn and Tennessee. The Tigers also feature linebacker Dakota Baer with a team-high 81 tackles on a defense allowing just 148.5 rush yards and 16.1 points per game.
Meanwhile, Ringgold’s offense relies on senior quarterback Slade Bell, who is committed to Georgia as a standout second baseman.
Bell is just as much of a handful on the gridiron, however, leading Ringgold with 1,035 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns. A true dual-threat, Bell has also passed for 1,443 yards and 14 TDs against 7 interceptions while completing just over 55 percent of his passes.
“Their quarterback is exceptional; he’s a game-changer,” Christmas said of Bell. “They line up in the shotgun and run and throw out of it, and their skill people do a good job.”
That includes running backs Kile Sholl (637 yards rushing, 9 TDs) and DL Goins (486 yards, 10 TDs). Sholl is also the team’s leading receiver with 33 catches for 546 yards and 5 TDs, though Bell has completed scoring passes to seven different receivers this season.
Something has to give.
Akins believes the difference will come in mistakes -- such as penalties and turnovers.
“The team that has the fewest mistakes will probably win this game,” Akins said.
With that in mind, North Hall is glad it has played a brutal schedule that includes contests against five different playoff teams – winning three of those. Ringgold, meanwhile, had just two wins against a team with a winning record in 2013 -- Region 7-AAAA champ Dalton and 7-3 Adairsville. The Tigers’ six other wins came against teams with a combined 18-42 record.
“Our schedule could work to our advantage now. We played some great teams, and that will only help us for the playoffs, and it could end up being a positive for us,” said Christmas, who added that his team was excited to bounce back after last week’s 42-14 loss to Class AAA No. 1 Buford. “I told them that a game like last Friday’s could mess with your confidence if you let it, but they are determined to rebound from that.”
The Trojans also hope that their unique wishbone attack could give the visitors an advantage come Friday.
“Not too many teams use an offense like ours, and it’s tough if you haven’t seen something similar to what you’re about to face in the playoffs,” Christmas said.
Zac Little currently leads North Hall with 1,117 yards rushing and 12 TDs, while quarterback Andrew Smith is second with 949 yards on the ground and a team-high 17 rushing touchdowns.
“Dalton likes to run the ball, but nobody they’ve played so far runs it the same way we do,” Christmas said.
The Trojans hope that run continues through history on Friday and into the second round.
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