CLEVELAND -- It was grinding, gritty and physical -- everything that White County wanted in a football game -- including the outcome.
The Warriors put together just enough big plays on offense and relied on a dogged defensive effort en route to its biggest win in seasons on Friday, knocking off fourth-ranked North Hall 21-7 in Cleveland.
White County held the Trojans to 44 points below their season scoring average and used two scrambled scoring passes from A.J. Vandiver to pull away from a 7-7 scoreline in the first half and create an intriguing scramble for second place in Region 7-AAA.
While Buford is now alone in first place, three teams one game behind -- North Hall, West Hall and White County -- now have one region loss.
"We played a complete game tonight, and I can't say enough about our kids and how they bought in; it was a total team win," said Warriors coach Bill Ballard, who also praised his quarterback. "I'm so proud of A.J.; that was his best game of the season tonight."
White County's scoring strikes provided the balance for a run-heavy attack that rolled up 226 yards on the ground -- including an 80-yard touchdown sprint from Coley Loudermilk in the first quarter. Dalton Whitfield provided much of the power for White County, the fullback rumbling for 99 yards on 17 carries -- though it was his pass-catching ability that helped the Warriors take the lead, as the senior out-leaped a Trojan defender in the end zone for a second quarter strike from Vandiver, who completed 4 of 8 passes for 74 yards.
"That play busted on us, and we just improvised," said Whitfield, whose catch provided a 14-7 lead that White County (5-2, 3-1 Region 7-AAA) would not yield.
Whitfield's play at linebacker also proved crucial for the Warriors, who forced five turnovers on downs for North Hall.
"We knew it would be physical; it always is with North Hall," Whitfield said. "We just kept grinding on defense and hitting them in the mouth."
North Hall (6-1, 3-1) did out-gain White County with 359 total yards and 309 on the ground. But, despite a 61-yard touchdown run from Zac Little, the Trojans offense could not find a big play once it fell behind in the second quarter.
"White County's a good team, and you have to play 48 minutes to beat them, and we didn't do that tonight," Trojans coach Bob Christmas said. "They have a penetrating defense, and you know they're going to make some big plays, but you also expect to make a few big plays too, and we didn't do that very much. They also did a great job tackling when we did get into the secondary."
Little finished with a game-high 119 yards for North Hall, while Andrew Smith also rushed for 107 yards.
"Our defense tonight played hard tonight. North Hall has mauled people this year, and we moved Will Flowers into the box to try and stop some of their runs in the middle, and he did a great job," Ballard said. "When you play North Hall it's always a blood bath. It's a physical game, a rivalry game, everyone's emotions are there."
White County showed its emotional side early, stopping North Hall on the Trojans opening drive and coming up with a huge play on the Warriors' third play from scrimmage.
Taking a pitch from Vandiver, Loudermilk (2 carries, 84 yards; 1 reception, 42 yards) beat a North Hall defender to the corner, cut past another tackler and sprinted 80 yards to the end zone for a 7-0 lead with 6:59 left in the first quarter.
The play electrified the home crowd and set the tone for a back and forth first half.
North Hall was far from intimidated, however, and the Trojans stormed back down the field on the ensuing drive, as Little broke away for a 61-yard touchdown run to pull even at 7-7 with 5:20 left in the second quarter.
The early scores, did not presage a shootout, however, and both offenses struggled to find their scoring touch for the remainder of the half, trading punts three times -- though the Warriors did miss on a 47-yard field goal attempt at the start of the second quarter.
White County did find the end zone just before halftime, Vandiver scrambling before finding Whitfield for a nine-yard touchdown pass for a 14-7 lead with 3:38 left in the half.
The Warriors continued to build their momentum after the interval, taking advantage of a 30-yard kickoff return from Maurice Sutton to set up a 60-yard touchdown drive. This time Vandiver scrambled again and, again, found a receiver in the end zone, Tucker Cook snagging a five-yard scoring catch for a 21-7 advantage with 8:42 left in the quarter.
The remainder of the game saw North Hall try to answer, only for White County to hold the Trojans out of the end zone. There were opportunities, including a fourth quarter pass into the end zone that flew agonizingly high at the start of the fourth quarter.
"We came out flat, and we just dug ourselves too big a hole," Christmas said.
The Trojans will look to bounce back in a now-critical battle with West Hall next Friday at The Brickyard.
White County, meanwhile, will look to re-focus for a visit from Dawson County next week.
"I think this win was big for us. (North Hall) is ranked No. 4 in the state," Ballard said. "But now we've got to get focused and ready for Dawson County. We've still got a lot of tough games left."
North Hall..........7....0....0....0 -- 7
White County....7....7....7....0 -- 21
WCHS -- Coley Loudermilk 80 run (Saunders kick) 6:59, 7-0
NHHS -- Little 61 run (kick) 5:20, 7-7
WCHS -- Whitfield 9 pass from Vandiver (Saunders kick) 3:38, 14-7
WCHS -- Cook 5 pass from Vandiver (Saunders kick) 8:42, 21-7