Prep Football: Northgate hopes to cap emotional week with victory at Ola
By DOUG GORMAN
After battling through injuries and a rough early-season schedule, the Northgate Vikings might be ready to produce a string of victories much like it did during last year’s region-title winning season.
Northgate’s reason for optimism came after last Friday night’s 29-8 victory against the North Clayton Eagles as the Vikings’ offense clicked on all cylinders en route to the first win of the year.
Northgate played a turnover-free game against the Eagles and the Vikings also played inspired defensive holding North Clayton to 120 net yards.
“I was pleased with the way we started the ball game out on both sides of the ball,” head coach Tommy Walburn said. “We came out and scored quick and that set the tone.”
Northgate has gone through an emotional week off the field while preparing for the trip to face the 1-2 Mustangs in McDonough.
The Vikings will play Friday just hours following the scheduled funeral of the school’s longtime athletic trainer Dale Krach, who passed away at 65 last weekend. Krach worked the sidelines at football practice through last week before dying in his sleep Saturday night after a series of health-related issues the past year.
“What we are going to do is dedicate the rest of the season,” Northgate head coach Tommy Walburn said.
The key now for the Vikings is to ride that wave of momentum from last week’s first win into Friday night’s Region 4-AAAAA cross-over game at Ola High School in McDonough.
This will be the third-straight year Ola and Northgate have played in the regular season. The Vikings have won the previous two, beating the Mustangs 27-26 in 2010 and 42-14 last season on the road.
The Mustangs come into the contest with an 1-2 record, but their two losses have been by a combined 15 points after falling to Locust Grove (35-28) and undefeated McIntosh (14-8).
Ola head coach John Kovzel enters his fifth season with the Mustangs after first serving as an assistant coach for two years starting when the school opened in 2006, and it’s that continuity that could make them dangerous.
“Their coach has been there several years,” Walburn said. “They have a big front line and some talented skilled players.”
The Mustangs operate out of the veer offense while trying to get the ball into the hands of running back Jo Jo Spann in the triple option. The 5-11 senior has scored touchdowns in all three games this season including on special teams. Last week against McIntosh, Spann blocked a kick and returned it for the Mustangs’ only touchdown.
Quarterback C.J. Carr and fullback Coy Waters are Ola’s other options in its veer attack.
The Mustangs’ defense is led by a pair of linebackers as juniors Cole Bailey and Logan Woodward.
Injuries have become more prevalent for Northgate than a year ago, having already lost seniors Kyle Henderson, Austin Green and Zach Burrell by early September. All three were expected to be contributors heading into the preseason.
Still, the return of running back Michael Willis and wide receiver Brandon Facyson from ankle injuries last week helped boost the Viking offense. Willis came through with 102 yards rushing on 13 carries with a pair of first-quarter touchdowns. Facyson caught three passes including a two-point conversion to close the first half.
Northgate, which is still without expected starter Benton Washington in the backfield, used eight players to carry the ball last week, gaining 249 yards on 42 carries.
Washington was expected to be the squad’s go-to-back this year, stepping in for Alex Lakes and Payton Usher who each rushed for more than 1,000-yards each last season en route to sharing The Newnan Times-Herald Co-Offensive Player of the Year honors.
Womack found the end zone on a 26-yard run in the third quarter against North Clayton for the final score of the game. He has also turned into the team’s leading rusher with 155 yards on 27 carries and a touchdown.
Running back Torres Johnson also found the end zone on a 1-yard run for one the Vikings. Johnson has only carried the ball three times, but has gained over 10-yards per carry.
Senior quarterback Josh Harrison has completed 14 of 26 passes this year for 183 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He has also been intercepted once.
Defensively, the Vikings will try to shut down Ola’s triple-option threat with a defense that been paced by linebacker Connor Usher who leads the team with 32 tackles, including three for sacks. Northgate’s biggest concern last week was allowing third-down conversions to North Clayton, which did not yield a play of more than 10 yards on first or second downs during last week’s win. Second downs netted just 10 yards on 12 plays for North Clayton compared to 43 on first down and 69 on third down.
Big defensive tackle De’Andre Johnson had seven tackles and a pass break up in one of the best games of his career in front of expected scouts from the University of Georgia, the school where the 6-3, 311-pounder already has verbally committed.
Walburn is looking for an equally fast start this week against the Mustangs after taking 14-0 and 22-8 leads during the first half last week.
“We have got to learn to finish what we started,” Walburn said. “When we get a team down, we have to step on the accelerator and not let up.”