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Tuesday September 1st, 2015 4:04AM

Playoff notebook: Trojans, Dragons preparing for battles at home

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
One area team is on the verge of revisiting a feat not matched in five years, the other is hoping to smash through a 35-year-old glass ceiling.

Both North Hall and Jefferson have plenty of at stake this weekend in the second round of the high school football playoffs and both know it won't come easy in the Class AAA and AA brackets, respectively.

NORTH HALL FACING 'SLUGFEST'

The admiration was evident in his voice. Bob Christmas likes the style of football Morgan County plays.

After all the Bulldogs base much of what they do on the exact principals that Christmas instilled in North Hall when he first arrived in 2001.

"They are just a physical football team with some kids that can really run," Christmas said. "On film they look very good."

On Friday, the Trojans (9-2) will get up close and personal with Morgan County (9-2), as the Region 7-AAA champs look to battle past the No. 2 seed from 8-AAA at The Brickyard, gunning for their first state quarterfinal berth since 2007 -- and Christmas says his team will be prepared for a street fight.

"It's going to be a slugfest," Christmas said. "We're going to have to execute on offense and defense for 48 minutes."

That hasn't been an issue so far for North Hall in 2012, and Christmas says hard work is something he can count on every week.

"These kids haven't let me down all year; they've played hard every game. Even at Buford we fought hard throughout the game. We made some mistakes, but they never let their effort drop," Christmas said. "And I really liked the way they responded after that loss."

This week, the Trojans defense -- which is allowing 102 yards rushing per game and is led by safety Andrew Smith (113 tackles) and linebacker Destin Bennett (97 tackles) -- will look to respond to a Bulldogs offense that should look mighty familiar. Morgan County bases out of the wing-T, and while they aren't a mirror of the attack that North Hall fielded 2001-2011, Christmas says there are plenty of similarities.

"We've got a good understanding of what they're trying to do," Christmas noted.

That doesn't mean that it will be easy to stop, however, especially with the Bulldogs' explosive group of playmakers, including standout fullback Marquis Benton.

"He's a very hard running player, and he really does a lot for them," Christmas said of Benton, before adding that Melvin Davis, Michael Gray and Andrew Couch, as well as quarterback Trent Hawk, are all dangerous ball carriers.

Yet after last week's 38-7 first round defeat of Woodward Academy, Christmas says his team is growing in self-belief as it prepares to fight for the program's ninth straight home playoff win.

"Our kids played extremely well last week, and I think they do feel confident right now," said Christmas, whose teams are 10-2 at home in the playoffs -- the last loss coming in 2004 in the state quarterfinals.


DRAGONS PREPPING FOR MULTIPLE WILDCATS

In 1977, while coach T McFerrin was coaching the Peachtree Patriots to an 8-2 record, Jefferson football marauded its way to the Class B championship game, where it fell to Lincoln County 22-7.

Thirty-five years later, Peachtree is defunct, and McFerrin is looking to lead the Dragons back to a place they haven't visited since that runner-up campaign -- the state quarterfinals.

"We'd like to win a second round game certainly," McFerrin said. "I'm aware that it's been a long time, and we'd definitely like to get into the quarterfinals."

To do so, the Dragons (10-1) must find a way past a Westminster team that McFerrin says will put his players' to the test.

"They (Westminster) are the most multiple team we've seen all year," McFerrin said. "They are unbelievably tough to get lined up against. They will be the best team we've played all year, maybe other than the North Hall."

The Wildcats (5-6) make things difficult for opponents by throwing a veritable kitchen sink of formations on the field -- both offense and defense.

"We traded six films with them and we saw so many different sets. We saw some 'I,' some spread and some empty sets," McFerrin said. "Their defense is also multiple. We've seen a 3-3 stack, a 3-4 and a 4-3. We've had to spend a lot of time in practice running one play against three different defenses."

Offensively, the Wildcats -- led by junior quarterback Jake Forte -- will attempt to balance the run and the pass, but Forte -- "the best passer we've seen this season," according to McFerrin -- can carry the team with his arm. And Westminster's record is also deceiving, considering that all six losses came against playoff teams (four against Class AAA postseason squads), five of which are still playing.

Yet the Region 8-AA champion Dragons are riding high after last week's 42-8 defeat of Kendrick in the first round, and McFerrin believes his players will be ready for the challenge.

"Last week's win was huge," McFerrin said. "It was a good win for us, and I think the players are excited."

-- NOTE: Several historical stats courtesy of GHSFHA.org.

MORGAN COUNTY at NORTH HALL
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: The Brickyard, Gainesville
-- RADIO: 102.9 FM
-- MORGAN COUNTY (9-2, No. 2 seed Region 8-AAA): Defeated Gordon Central 24-21 in the first round.
-- NORTH HALL (9-2, No. 1 seed Region 7-AAA): Defeated Woodward Academy 38-7 in the first round.
-- HISTORY: This is the two teams' first meeting.
-- WINNER PLAYS: Pierce County vs. Peach County winner in quarterfinal round.

WESTMINSTER at JEFFERSON
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: Memorial Stadium, Jefferson
-- RADIO: 550 AM
-- WESTMINSTER (5-6, No. 3 seed Region 6-AA): Defeated Pepperell 34-0 in the first round.
-- JEFFERSON (10-1, No. 1 seed Region 8-AA): Defeated Kendrick 42-8 in the first round. The Dragons are ranked No. 7 in Class AA.
-- HISTORY: This is the two teams' first meeting.
-- WINNER PLAYS: Vidalia vs. Fitzgerald winner in the quarterfinal round.
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