GAINESVILLE -- Make no mistake, North Hall enjoyed every bit of Friday night's region championship. After all it had been five years since the Trojans' last crown.
It was clear from the celebrations following a 42-7 defeat of Banks County at The Brickyard, however, that North Hall also has plenty more on its collective minds.
"This was great, absolutely wonderful, but we still have a lot to play for, and we're excited about the opportunities we have," Trojans coach Bob Christmas said.
Those opportunities take a big step next Friday against No. 3 Buford in a game that would have been for the 7-AAA championship but for the Wolves forfeiting two contests due to fielding an ineligible player. And the Trojans say that the contest still carries plenty of import.
"We're going to treat it like a region title game," North Hall linebacker/tight end Taylor Ryder said of the showdown at Tom Riden Stadium next week. "Buford had some unfortunate stuff happen to them, and we don't want people to say, 'oh they won the region title because of what happened with Buford.' It's going to be a huge game, and it's going to come down to whoever wants it more."
The Trojans certainly looked hungry on Friday, pouncing on Banks County for 21 first quarter points en route to a 35-0 halftime lead. The victory marked the Trojans' sixth straight in 7-AAA -- the wins coming courtesy a combined score of 302-50 -- and this week's contest was just as lopsided as the previous five. The Trojans (8-1, 6-0 Region 7-AAA) outgained the Leopards (3-6, 2-4) 354-127, rushing for 251 yards.
Kevin Christmas led the onslaught, rushing just four times for 107 yards, as five other backs finished with positive yards, including TJ Tate's four carries for 31 yards and two scores and Zac Little's six carries for 29 yards and a TD. Quarterbacks Bradley Brown (three carries, 37 yards) and Andrew Smith (two carries, 50 yards, TD) also did plenty of damage on the ground, as the Trojans put the game out of reach before halftime.
"We were a little more focused early than we had been in some of our games this year because we didn't want to overlook Banks," Ryder said. "Anyone can beat anyone on a given night, and we knew what was on the line tonight."
North Hall went about putting its stamp on the game in the first quarter, scoring on their first three possessions to build a 21-0 advantage.
To get things started, the Trojans eschewed their normal ground attack, putting up back-to-back touchdown passes from Brown to Ryder -- the first covering 17 yards just 52 seconds in the contest. Ryder's second scoring catch covered six yards.
"That made us a little more comfortable early, and I just happened to be on the end of those passes," Ryder said. "They were perfect throws."
Despite the aerial fireworks, North Hall still relied on its rushing prowess early, piling up 193 yards on the ground in the first half -- 46 coming on a late first quarter touchdown run from Christmas for a 21-0 lead. Andrew Smith also added a 32-yard scamper with 7:12 left in the second quarter, the back-up quarterback slashing through the Banks County defense to end a sloppy sequence that included turnovers from each team -- Ryder picking off a Leopards pass only for the Trojans to fumble the ball away on the very next play.
North Hall yielded another fumble with 3:56 left in the half, Logan Hubbard recovering for the Leopards. But the Trojans defense rose to the challenge, forcing a turnover on downs at its own 35. One play later Brown connected with Lee Shelton on a 55-yard bomb that set up a 10-yard scoring run from Tate and a 35-0 halftime lead.
Little finished off the scoring for the home side, running in from 14 yards for a 42-0 lead midway through the third quarter. Banks finally responded with just 1:33 remaining on a 28-yard scoring pass from Noah Trebec to Greg Cannon.
By then, the Trojans were already eying a region championship -- and next week's showdown in Buford.
Banks Co.....0.....0....0....7 -- 7
North Hall...21....14....7....0 -- 42
NHHS -- Ryder 17 pass from Brown (Cruz kick) 11:08, 7-0
NHHS -- Ryder 6 pass from Brown (Cruz kick) 7:02, 14-0
NHHS -- Christmas 46 run (Cruz kick) :00.7, 21-0
NHHS -- Smith 32 run (Cruz kick) 7:12, 28-0
NHHS -- Tate 10 run (Cruz kick) 1:00, 35-0
NHHS -- Little 14 run (Cruz kick) 7:24, 42-0
BC -- Cannon 28 pass from Trebec (Perez kick) 1:33, 42-7