Prep Football: Battered Northgate tries to stay the course vs. GriffinBy DOUG GORMAN
The Northgate Vikings aren’t letting a close 9-7 loss to Heritage-Conyers in last week’s season opener get them down.
Northgate head coach Tommy Walburn said his team started forgetting about the game almost by the time they boarded the school buses to head back to Newnan.
The Vikings appeared to have last week’s game won until Heritage place-kicker Harrison Kulp booted the game-winning field goal with under a minute to go to snatch the win away from the Vikings. Kulp was 3 of 4 on field goals attempts en route to the win, but he had just missed on an attempt moments earlier giving the Vikings the chance to get back the football and run out the clock.
Northgate never got the chance to move the first down sticks. Instead, they were stopped on fourth down, punted the football back to the Patriots who were able to put together the game winning drive.
It was Northgate’s first regular season loss since 2010.
Although there might be some growing pains as Northgate adjusts to losses from last year’s team due to graduation, Walburn is trying to keep his team focused on the regular season.
“I am disappointed that we lost the game, but I am not disappointed with the way we fought until the end,” Northgate head coach Tommy Walburn said. “Now we are ready to move on.”
Northgate played the game against Heritage short handed, and there might be some missing pieces against the Bears.
Running backs Michael Willis and Benton Washington are among the Vikings walking wounded. Willis, played in last week’s opener, but Washington was sidelined and are may sit out this week.
For Walburn its just a matter of picking up the pieces and playing with whoever is available.
“We have some good football players on this team,” he said. “They are going to have to step up and play. Last year, we hardly had anybody get injured. This year, we started the season with players on the sidelines.”
Northgate’s veteran coach knows there is a lot more football left to be played and one non-region loss is not going to make or break the Vikings’ season.
“We have bounced back,” Walburn said. “We knew coming in we had a long way to go and that our defense was going to have to carry us. Then we have had some injuries that have put us behind a little bit. We have good kids and they have worked hard.”
Northgate returned to practice on Monday already looking ahead to its monumental tasks against the Bears.
A week ago, Griffin opened up its season with a 42-16 victory against Dutchtown as quarterback Jaquez Parks threw for 197 yards, completing 12 of 28 passes.
Malik Miller could pose the Vikings biggest threat when it comes to stopping the run. In the Bears’ season opener, Miller finished with 80 yards, including touchdown runs of 5, 10 and 37 yards.
“They are a quality football team,” Walburn said. “They are ranked No. 7 in Class AAAAA and they should be able to make a deep run in the playoffs. They have great tradition and we felt like we needed to play somebody like that. To me, they have just as much tradition as anybody in the state.”
Griffin might find it tough going against Northgate’s loaded defense after the Vikings gave up just 184 yards of total offense.
Against the Patriots in last week’s season opener, 15 different players got in on tackles with Torres Johnson leading the way with 10. He also forced two fumbles for the Vikings. Adrian Tolbert had nine solo tackles, and linebackers Connor Usher and Dalton Lane each had 8 1/2 tackles to go with sharing a sack.
The Vikings gave up just 184 yards of total offense against the Patriots’ Wing-T attack.
Walburn knows the Bears will show a different look on offense than what Northgate faced in trying to stop Heritage’s run-happy Wing-T.
"They spread the ball out,” he said. “They have everybody coming back from last year. They have some tremendous receivers. They have a good quarterback and a good offensive line.”
While the defense will try and stop the Bears’ high-octane offense, Northgate will try and ignite its own offense this week after generating just 138 yards of total offense against the Patriots.
The Vikings’ senior Josh Harrison, who was making his first start at quarterback, was 5 of 8 for 76 yards against the Patriots. He threw one interception on the Vikings’ last drive of the game to end the team’s chances at a comeback.
Harrison showed the ability to get the ball to his running backs out of backfield as fullback Wills caught two of Harrison passes, including one for team’s only touchdown before twisting his ankle.
Northgate may not be at full strength, but Walburn promises his team will be ready to take the field.
“Right now, we are just focusing on Northgate and not worrying about anybody else. Our goal is just to get better each week,” he said.
This will be the first meeting between the two teams. Griffin has been on of the state’s powerhouses over the years, making the playoffs the last 12 years.
Both teams went to rounds into the playoffs last season. The Bears finished 9-3 beat Jonesboro 47-43 before falling to eventual state champion Tucker 46-0. Northgate rolled into the playoffs with an undefeated regular season, beating North Clayton 42-7 before falling to East Paulding 27-21.
“Hopefully, we will play better than we did last week,” Walburn said. “We are just ready to go out and play”