GAINESVILLE -- How's that for a response?
One week after suffering its worse defeat of the season, North Hall shook off the setback in emphatic fashion, cruising to a 38-7 win over Woodward Academy in the first round of the Class AAA playoffs in Gainesville.
The Trojans (9-2) used two big plays to grab a 14-0 first half lead and pulled away in the third quarter, putting last week's loss to Buford firmly in the rearview mirror, as the Region 7-AAA champions turned their focus onto the postseason.
"After last week we didn't mope, we didn't hang our heads; we learned from it and moved on," North Hall quarterback Bradley Brown said. "Hopefully this sends a message to the other teams out there. We feel like we're the team to beat."
The victory sends the Trojans to the Class AAA second round where they will play host to Morgan County next Friday in Gainesville.
North Hall wouldn't mind an encore of this Friday's performance, especially the third quarter. Leading by two touchdowns, the Trojans stamped their authority on the game just after the interval, scoring on their opening possession on a 1-yard dive by Andrew Smith for a 21-0 lead. David Epps then picked off a Woodward Academy pass to set up another 1-yard run, Brown rumbling into the end zone for a 28-0 lead late in the quarter.
"That was huge for us," North Hall coach Bob Christmas said. "We came out and put together a quick, five-six-play drive and started to pull away. We deferred the kick off hoping to be in that situation, and we really came out strong there."
The Trojans controlled the tempo from the outset, bottling Woodward's offense -- until the War Eagles turned to the pass late in the contest -- and allowing just 261 total yards, including 215 yards for quarterback Terry Googer.
Woodward (7-4), meanwhile, surrendered 388 yards to North Hall, including 299 yards rushing. Kevin Christmas provided plenty of spark for the Trojans, rushing 10 times for 142 yards, setting the table for two touchdowns -- though he never got in the end zone himself. Brown and Andrew Smith also combined to go 4 of 5 through the air, each hitting on touchdown passes. The two quarterbacks also applied the killer scores in the third quarter, each scoring on 1-yard plunges.
"You could tell they had no answer in the third quarter," Brown said. "We really took control at that point."
Brown and Christmas each put together big plays in the first half to help North Hall into the lead.
Christmas set up the Trojans' opening score with a 60-yard run, allowing Brown to dive into the end zone from one yard for a 7-0 lead with 5:05 left in the first quarter. Brown then put up an explosive play of his own in the second quarter, finding Lee Shelton for a 56-yard touchdown strike with 10:15 left in the half.
Thanks to a determined North Hall defense, it was all the offense the Trojans would need early, as Woodward struggled to find any momentum. The War Eagles managed just 100 total yards in the first half -- 42 coming on one pass completion -- and just 20 yards rushing.
The visitors did keep North Hall from pulling away, battling on defense as the Trojans managed 190 yards, 124 on the ground, in the first half.
The Trojans weren't interested in letting Woodward hang around, however, scoring on the opening possession of the third quarter to take complete control of the contest. And while Woodward avoided the shutout, Googer heaving an impressive 60-yard scoring strike to Steven Smith, the touchdown came far too late to derail North Hall, who was already looking forward to a second straight playoff game at The Brickyard.
"We love playing here, and our kids play better here than they do anywhere else," Christmas said. "It's going to be great to be home again next week."
Woodward....0....0....0....7 -- 7
North Hall.....7....7...14...10 -- 38
NHHS -- Brown 1 run (Cruz kick) 5:05, 7-0
NHHS -- Shelton 56 yard pass from Brown (Cruz kick) 10:15, 14-0
NHHS -- Smith 1 run (Cruz kick) 10:32, 21-0
NHHS -- Brown 1 run (Cruz kick) 2:23, 28-0
NHHS -- 37 field goal Cruz, 9:02, 31-0
WA -- Smith 60 pass from Googer (Robinson kick) 7:31, 31-7
NHHS -- Ryder 14 pass from Smith (Cruz kick) 1:32, 38-7