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Thursday February 11th, 2016 10:06AM

West Hall and White County preparing for yet another 7-AAA slugfest

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
OAKWOOD -- Congrats White County on your hardfought win over Dawson County -- now go play perhaps an even tougher game on the road.

West Hall, you gave it your all and lost a tough one to North Hall -- now get back up for another contest with huge postseason implications.

Welcome to the stretch run of Region 7-AAA football, where there is no rest for the weary and teams like West Hall and White County face week after week of grueling competition -- in this instance coming off respective four-quarter battles to face each other on Friday in Oakwood.

The showdown will have the ear of programs from around 7-AAA, as the Warriors (6-2, 4-1 Region 7-AAA) -- currently in possession of the region's No. 2 seed -- battle a Spartans team sitting in fourth place and searching for its first state playoff spot since 2002.

Yet West Hall coach Tony Lotti says his Spartans (5-3, 3-2) better not be thinking about the postseason at this point, rather keeping their focus on the challenge in front of them.

"We're just trying to keep it about the next game on the schedule," Lotti said. "It's a big game, sure, but it's big because it's our next game, and it's at home."

Coming off a 35-21 defeat to North Hall -- a game that was only a touchdown difference until 1:11 remained -- the Spartans know it will not be easy to get back up for another physical encounter with a White County team that has thrived with its defense, allowing just 14.4 points per game against 7-AAA opposition (and just 7.5 to teams not named Buford).

"Their defense has definitely been their strength," Lotti said of the Warriors. "The big question for us is can we match them physically?"

That includes a White County triple-option offense that features bruising fullback Dalton Whitfield, as well as a steadily improving offensive line and quarterback in A.J. Vandiver.

"Whitfield is a heck of a player," Lotti said. "Stopping him will be a big key for us.

"We've got to get a defining win against a quality opponent."

The Warriors know it will take their best effort to avoid becoming that win and slowing the Spartans' will not come easy. Featuring some impressive athletes, including fullback Antonio Pittman and running backs Tyquan Statham and Kwon Williams, West Hall asks big questions of any defense.

"They can hurt you from anywhere on the field at any time," White County coach Bill Ballard said of the Spartans. "Between them, North Hall and Buford -- who is in another class -- they are the most athletic teams in the region."

And after grinding their way through two straight slugfests -- defeating North Hall 21-7 on Oct. 18 and Dawson County by a touchdown last week -- Ballard knows it won't be easy for the Warriors on the road.

"We've played in some physical games, and we're just trying to stay focused on getting through this one and getting that playoff berth," Ballard said. "Anything can happen these last few weeks; there will be a lot of games that impact the region. The thing is, this game won't make or break our season -- we can still get into the playoffs -- but we still want to win it and put ourselves in the best position."

A victory would put White County in a great spot to clinch the No. 2 seed and a first round home playoff game. West Hall, meanwhile, is in circumstances that could be seen from multiple angles. The Spartans can only clinch a playoff position with a win on Friday and a Dawson County (4-4, 2-3) loss to Fannin County (2-6, 1-4) in Dawsonville (a Rebel win over the Tigers would seal all four playoff teams for 7-AAA). Should West Hall lose on Friday -- and Dawson win -- however, the Spartans and Tigers would play an all-or-nothing finale on Nov. 8 in Dawsonville.

"We've got three huge games back-to-back-to-back to end the season, and we want to maintain consistent excellence; that's our biggest goal," Lotti said. "There's no trophy for being the most improved team in the state, and we want to have something big to show for how far we've come this year.

"But we're excited to be here. This is what it's all about."

Ballard too says his Warriors are up for the challenge.

"We're going to give it our best," Ballard said. "This team is always up for a challenge."

-- NOTE: Weather could certainly play a key factor on Friday. Forecasts are calling for varying levels of rain, which could make for a few mistakes on a wet surface and with a wet ball. "It could come down to turnovers and mistakes," Lotti said.

WHITE COUNTY at WEST HALL
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: Spartan Stadium, Oakwood
-- RADIO: AM 550
-- WHITE COUNTY (6-2, 4-1 Region 7-AAA): Defeated Dawson County 17-10 last week.
-- WEST HALL (5-3, 3-2 Region 7-AAA): Lost to North Hall 35-21 last week.
-- HISTORY: White County won the last meeting 42-7 in 2012. The Warriors lead the series 9-8, including seven straight wins.
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