Monday October 23rd, 2017 5:41AM

Christmas, Tate add explosive element to Trojans ground game

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
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GAINESVILLE -- In the midst of last week's destruction of Peach County, two friends were quietly playing a game of one-up.

The results of TJ Tate's and Kevin Christmas' back-and-forth spoke volumes on the scoreboard, however.

The North Hall running back duo slashed through Peach County's defense for 182 and 172 yards respectively, scoring five touchdowns combined to help the Trojans storm to their second ever state semifinal berth via a 52-10 win over last year's Class AAA runner-up.

"I give those the kids the freedom to play left halfback or right halfback whenever they want to," North Hall coach Bob Christmas said. "It turned out they were in the huddle, hearing the play, and they were going back and forth on who was getting the carries, like, 'hey it's your turn to carry it.' They're not selfish, and it's not about them. They just wanted to contribute and wanted the other guy to have success. It's a lot of fun to coach players like that."

Trojans coaches, fans and teammates have certainly enjoyed watching Kevin Christmas -- the coach's youngest son -- and Tate take turns torturing opposing defenses this season. The seniors have rolled up 2,097 yards -- almost evenly (1,059 for Tate, 1,038 for Christmas) -- and their big-play ability has added more than just the element of excitement to North Hall's wishbone attack.

Access North Georgia sports editor Morgan Lee recently caught up with Christmas and Tate to talk about their amazing season so far and what lies in store on Friday. To watch a video presentation on the Trojans' rushing attack, simply click "play" below.

Feature: North Hall Running Game from WDUN TV on Vimeo.

"It's just great. We just have threats in so many different areas," said Tate. "We have power backs, fast and elusive backs. We have it all I guess."

Indeed, North Hall (11-2) has rushed for 4,471 yards so far this season -- 343.9 yards per game -- utilizing an array of weapons. Quarterbacks Bradley Brown (728 yards rushing, 15 TDs; 585 yards passing, 8 TDs) and Andrew Smith (560 yards rushing, 10 TDs; 7 TD passes on 10 completions) have supplied plenty of spark, as has fullback Zac Little (537 yards rushing, 7 TDs). Perhaps even more dominant has been the play of the Trojans' offensive line.

"They are unbelievable," Kevin Christmas said of North Hall's linemen. "They're big, fast, smart and strong. You've got to be really smart with this offense. They have to talk a lot and come up with responsibilities and what's changing during the game."

In fact it seems that all involved have enjoyed the switch from North Hall's long-used wing-T base to the wishbone style that the Trojans adopted over the offseason.

"The wing-T is also a great offense, but trying something new and switching something up from the old routine has been a lot of fun and interesting in practice," Kevin Christmas said. "It's also given our opponents something different to prepare for rather than the same old thing. I think it's been good for us."

Certainly the fresh approach -- not to mention the play of Christmas and Tate -- has the attention of semifinal foe St. Pius (11-2). And Golden Lions coach Paul Standard says his defense will be hard-pressed to slow a group that put up 430 yards rushing in the quarterfinals.

"They come right at you with that wishbone, and they still have some of that misdirection from the wing-T that they still use," Standard said. "It's impressive to see."

Defenses that attempt to slow Tate's speed or handle Christmas' fight might disagree, as each player brings a unique and important skill set to the Trojans' backfield.

"Kevin's first 10 or 15 yards is as quick as anybody we have; over 40 yards TJ is a little faster," Bob Christmas said. "Kevin may hit the hole a little harder, both have good vision and they always fall forward. In fact the Morgan County coach asked me after the game, 'does your son ever not fall forward?' "

Kevin Christmas prefers to put it another way.

"If I see the hole open up, I'm probably going to get caught from behind," the senior joked. "The more rewarding part for me is running it up in the middle and getting the tough yardage. TJ's a lot faster than me."

It's a combo that has proven deadly, and maybe the only disappointment is that the two only have one season to shine together.

After growing up in the North Hall community and playing for North Hall Middle School, Tate moved to North Carolina when his father, Robert, a strength coach, accepted a job with the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. But Tate returned for his final varsity campaign -- and found his old friends more than happy to have him his help in turning around a Trojans program that had not reached the postseason since 2009.

"We're all a big family," Tate said. "I never thought I'd be back here, but I am glad I am. And when I got here the guys were already talking about having a big season. We had big expectations during the summer... This is just amazing."

North Hall hopes to blow all previous superlatives out of the water this weekend, as the Trojans battle for the program's first championship game berth. To do so North Hall must win a playoff game away from the Brickyard for the first time in program history.

"This is a challenge, and we're in to challenges," Bob Christmas said. "There's a lot of positives to this game, and the kids are excited."

With players like Tate and Christmas on your sideline, it would be hard not to be.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: George B. Maloof Stadium, Atlanta
-- RADIO: 102.9 FM
-- NORTH HALL (11-2, No. 1 seed Region 7-AAA): Defeated Peach County 52-10 in the quarterfinals.
-- ST. PIUS (11-2, No. 1 seed Region 6-AAA): Defeated Washington County 40-35 in the quarterfinals.
-- HISTORY: St. Pius is 3-0 against North Hall all-time, including two regular season wins (2010 and '11) and a 17-3 second round win in 2009.
-- WINNER PLAYS: Cartersville vs. Buford winner in the Class AAA title game
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