GAINESVILLE -- That 0-3 start may have stunk -- but on Friday night, the North Hall football team showed that plenty of good is starting to come from it.
The Trojans learned much from their brutal early schedule -- and showed it in stunning fashion, ripping Chestatee 48-7 at The Brickyard.
"When you're playing good teams, you can do two things: you can better and learn from it or you can tuck and run. Our kids decided they wanted to get better," North Hall coach Bob Christmas said. "I think (the early schedule) made us the team we are today."
The team the Trojans (2-3, 1-0 Region 8A-AAA) were on Friday was exactly what North Hall football strives for: dominating on the ground. Chestatee (3-2, 0-1) had no answer for North Hall's rushing attack, led by Imani Cross' 280 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries -- the mark was close to the school's single-game record, though no North Hall official could verify the feat. Teammate Caleb Faulkner also rolled up 120 yards and two scores on 20 carries (he also caught a touchdown), as the Trojans pounded their way to 438 rushing yards, 508 yards overall.
"My offensive line did a wonderful job all night; they came off the ball and played well and opened up a lot of big holes," Cross said. "I love those guys. And we took a big first step in the subregion tonight."
North Hall's defense also stepped up, surrendering just 175 yards to a War Eagles offense that had dominated through the first four games of the season -- and much of that came in the second half on a 68-yard touchdown run from Quan Clark. Clark finished with 79 yards on six carries to pace Chestatee.
"I've said all along this is a good football team," Christmas said. "When you're 0-3 people think you're crazy, but I still be believe in these kids, and the great thing is they still believe."
North Hall took control from the opening kickoff, scoring on its first four possessions.
The Trojans dominated the in trenches, North Hall's offensive line opening sizable holes for its stable of running backs -- a recipe for success with Cross in the backfield.
The Tennessee-bound senior ripped off three touchdown runs -- including an 85-yard sprint in the second quarter -- and piled up 239 yards in the first half alone. His 38-yard scoring run got things going for North Hall with 8:32 left in the first quarter and capped a seven-play drive.
Faulkner took his turn on the following possession, plunging into the end zone from seven yards after a 27-yard run from Cross set up the touchdown and a 14-0 lead with 4:23 left in the first quarter.
The War Eagles struggled to create any offensive momentum early but jumped on a Trojan miscue late in the first quarter, pouncing on a loose ball after a Chestatee punt grazed a North Hall player. The War Eagles took over at the Trojans 22 and moved 10 yards for a first down, but the short drive proved costly, as Chestatee quarterback Jordan Degraff went down with an injury and left the game. Back-up Wyatt Burgess took over, but the War Eagles' offense stagnated as North Hall's defense forced a turnover on downs, taking over at its own 8-yard line.
It was all Trojans for the remainder of the half.
Cross exploded on his 85-yard jaunt just two plays later for a 21-0 lead. On the next possession he ran away from three Chestatee defenders for a 28-0 advantage that held until the interval. And North Hall continued to pull away in the third quarter, Faulkner scoring from eight yards for a 35-0 advantage.
Chestatee has shown a penchant for second half comebacks this season, doing so against Dawson County and nearly so in last week's loss to Monroe Area -- and the War Eagles gave their fans reason to cheer midway through the third quarter, as Clark took over as wildcat quarterback and sprinted 68 yards for a touchdown to trim the deficit to 35-7 with 7:18 left in the period.
The visiting section erupted again moments later when North Hall fumbled and Chestatee's T.J. White scooped up the loose ball and scampered 42 yards for a touchdown. But the score was called back for a facemask penalty. On the very next play, the War Eagles fumbled the ball right back to the Trojans, dousing any comeback hopes.
Just to be sure, North Hall quarterback Bradley Brown lofted a 25-yard touchdown strike to Eli Gilmer for a 42-7 advantage with 2:56 left in the third. Brown also found Faulkner on a six-yard TD pass with 6:03 left to play.
"That tough start paid off for us because we went through the fire and learned that just because times are tough you can't quit," Cross said. "We knew we could bounce back. And we can still get better. There's still stuff to work on, and we can improve on defense, on offense. We're going to keep getting better."
The Trojans will look to keep rolling next Friday at White County, while Chestatee will attempt to bounce back against Stephens County in Gainesville.
CHESTATEE.....0....0....7....0 -- 7
NORTH HALL...14...14...14....6 -- 48
NHHS -- Cross 38 run (Cruz kick) 8:32, 7-0
NHHS -- Faulkner 7 run (Cruz kick) 4:23, 14-0
NHHS -- Cross 85 run (Cruz kick) 11:45, 21-0
NHHS -- Cross 46 run (Cruz kick) 8:15, 28-0
NHHS -- Faulkner 8 run (Cruz kick) 7:34, 35-0
CHS -- Clark 68 run (Herrin kick) 7:18, 35-7
NHHS -- Gilmer 25 pass from Brown (Cruz kick) 2:56, 42-7
NHHS -- Faulkner 8 pass from Brown (kick failed) 6:03, 48-7