Growing pains: Early-season schedule, inexperience among factors in Northgate's 0-2 start
By DOUG GORMAN
The Northgate Vikings are going through a big change.
After rolling through opponents last year like they were standing still, winning a region title with an undefeated record, Northgate isn’t the same team as it was in 2011.
The 2011 Vikings literally rolled over opponents with powerful Wing-T offense that generated two 1,000-yard rushers in Alex Lakes and Payton Usher. The two seniors were named The Newnan Times-Herald Co-Offensive Players of the Year for the effort.
This year, it’s been running back by committee. A bite from the injury bug hasn’t helped either as Benton Washington has missed the first two games and Michael Willis did not play in Friday’s game against Griffin after he suffered a twisted ankle in second half of the season opener against Heritage-Conyers.
It’s forced the Vikings to juggle things around in search of finding a way to move the football.
The piece of the missing puzzle was solved Friday night despite the 35-6 loss to No. 7-ranked Griffin.
Northgate switched T.J. Womack from the offensive line to the fullback slot and he was able to move the football for the Vikings. A 54-yard gain was one of the Vikings' biggest gains through two games.
He also caught a screen pass for a 16-yard touchdown from Josh Harrison for the Vikings’ only touchdown of the game.
The injuries and a tougher schedule are showing up in the win-loss column as Northgate dropped to 0-2. They have also been outscored 44-13. But Tommy Walburn knows his team is resilient, and he expects them to start putting some wins up on the scoreboard as soon as everybody gets healthy.
He also says there is nothing wrong with his team’s attitude or focus.
Walburn saw his team hang tough against Griffin despite the loss, especially after the coaching staff delivered a second-half wake up call to the team.
“I didn’t think we competed very hard in the first half,” he said. "We kind of challenged the kids at halftime to come out and put a couple of quarters together, especially on offense, even though we only scored one touchdown we still move the ball and did some good things.”
First-year starting quarterback Josh Harrison didn’t panic in Friday night’s loss. Harrison didn’t throw often, but he did manage to complete his first four passes.
“Josh hasn’t played a lot of football and he has never started,” Walburn said. “So he is still learning too.”
Harrison found several targets Friday, completing passes to Kevin Teasley, Maliek Wade and Brandon Facyson in addition to Womack.
Once a healthy Willis returns, he will give Harrison an additional option out of the Vikings’ backfield.
In the season opener against Heritage, Willis caught two passes from Harrison, including one for the Vikings’ only touchdown.
Walburn says its just a matter of everything coming together as the season progresses.
“We are still a work in progress,” he said. “I still feel like we are a better team at 0-2, than we were after the scrimmage."
After two games, Walburn is pleased with the way his squad’s special teams has played.
“We have punted the ball very well and our kick coverage has been very good,” he said.
Since non-region games can’t determine playoff scenarios, Walburn is not so much worried about early-season losses against powerful opponents such as Griffin.
“We needed to play a team like this,” he said. “We are going to see this type of offense again. They hit a couple of big plays on us, and that hurt.”
Northgate returns home next week against North Clayton in a third non-region game.
North Clayton lost to Riverdale in the season opener last week, and was scheduled to play Grady Saturday night.