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Monday May 4th, 2015 11:16AM

Vikings, Tigers kick off rugged 7-AAA season early

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter
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It's billed as the classic speed-versus-power matchup. But when East Hall and Dawson County kick off the 2013 high school football season Friday night at East Hall Stadium, there will be more than just football philosophies on the line.

Dawson County is trying to duplicate or improve on last year's playoff run while, the Vikings are trying to take that next step after back-to-back 5-5 campaigns.

What's more, as the Region 7-AAA opener for both teams, plenty could be at stake besides just getting off to fast start on the season.

The two teams opened the 2012 season in Dawsonville with the Tigers taking a 42-0 win. Dawson County finished a game ahead of East Hall in the standings to grab the fourth spot in the playoffs, courtesy of its win over the Vikings.

"You always want to set the tone early with a win and get off a good start, but since it's a region game it could determine a playoff spot," East Hall coach Bryan Gray said. "It's a tough way to open the season but we're excited about the opportunity and the challenge."

Dawson County coach Jeff Lee said much the same thing during the early part of fall practice.

"That ended up being a key win for us. Building confidence early is important," Lee said. "It helped us last year to let us know where we were. Hopefully we can get off to another good start. East Hall should be much improved so this will be a tough one."

Last year the Tigers were among the teams slated to challenge for a playoff spot, while the Vikings were looking to build off their first non-losing season in five years. Things may be a little more even this year, with the Vikings looking to show off a wealth of speed, while the Tigers will look to pound the ball a little more than in recent years.

"I definitely think you'll see some points scored," Gray said. "Both offenses are potent and probably a little ahead of the defenses.

The Tigers return eight players that saw significant action on the offensive line -- which should make the transition for senior fullback Cody Lamar and junior quarterback Zack Buchan somewhat smooth.

For the Vikings, Devin Watson will get the start at quarterback after beating out Thaddeus Young. He will be supported by an impressive stable of running backs, including senior veteran Edward Vergara, juniors Juwon Merritt and Jacques Ash and sophomore Jiel Vargas. East Hall also features two standout receivers in seniors Milton Whelchel and Dre Brawner.

Lee agreed the offenses should put up some points, but he also felt his defense could be as good as last year, barring injuries. The Tigers lost three key defenders in the first two games last season that severely hampered them down the stretch.

"I really feel like our defense right now is ahead of where we were last year," Lee said. "The key is staying away from injuries."

With another tough year slated for Region 7-AAA, every game is important.

"You can't afford to look past anyone. We're just focused on the first game," Gray said. "But I can't wait to see what these guys can do. I feel like this could be the year we take a step forward."

-- NOTES: East Hall is 1-6 all-time against Dawson County. The Vikings won the first-ever meeting 34-24 in 2000 but have not been able to tame the Tigers since. ... The Tigers are 5-2 in their last seven road games. ... East Hall was just 2-3 at home last season.

DAWSON COUNTY at EAST HALL
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: East Hall Stadium, Rabbittown
-- DAWSON (0-0, 0-0 Region 7-AAA): The Tigers finished 6-5 in 2012.
-- EAST HALL (0-0, 0-0 Region 7-AAA): The Vikings finished 5-5 in 2012.
-- HISTORY: Dawson County won the last meeting, 42-0 in 2012. The Tigers lead the series 6-1.
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