Prep Football: Northgate desperate for win at Starr's MillBy DOUG GORMAN
If ever there was a team in need of a football victory Friday night, it’s the Northgate Vikings.
The Vikings’ playoffs lives depend on beating Starr’s Mill on the road tonight in a key subregion 4B-AAAAA game in Fayetteville between 0-2 lineups where the loser is likely to miss a chance to play for a state-playoff berth in the Nov. 9 region play-in game.
The Vikings’ back-to-back victories over North Clayton (29-8) and Ola (35-15) seemed to put Northgate back on track, but three losses in a row after dropped head coach Tommy Walburn’s team to 2-5 overall.
The latest came two weeks ago at home against Creekside where a pair of long runs by standout quarterback Eric Berry rallied the Seminoles to a 20-16 win at Henry Seldon Field.
The Vikings struggled in third-down situations, going 3-for-11, with several opportunities to convert hampered by dead-ball infractions that turned short-yardage running situations into passing downs.
Northgate’s defense forced four turnovers in the first half against the Seminoles, converting twice in the second quarter to take a 16-7 lead.
But for the second straight week, the Vikings couldn’t hold a halftime advantage to a subregion opponent.
The good news for Northgate, despite the 0-2 start to subregion 4B-AAAAA, is that this year’s playoff format allows the top-four finishers to have a crack at the state playoffs.
Each subregion champion will play the No. 4 finisher from the opposite side, while second and third place finishers crossover as well. The four winners from the Nov. 9 play-in game advance to the Class AAAAA state playoffs.
Starr’s Mill, however, is in the same situation at 2-5 and 0-2 in the subregion, meaning tonight’s loser will be the odd-team out unless they get some help elsewhere in the standings.
Walburn continues to preach to the Vikings that despite the rough start, their goals remain intact.
“Our kids practice hard every week,” he said. “Our goals are still the same, except for winning the region championship because that is probably not going to happen. We still have the chance to make the playoffs and make a run. We still have a chance to have a winning season. All of that is still in play.”
The Vikings enter the contest with Starr’s Mill well rested after having an open date last week and the Vikings used it to their advantage.
“We moved some guys around and tried to get well,” said Walburn. “We sort of looked forward to the off week. It gave us a chance to work on a lot of fundamentals. We are ready to get back out there.”
Creekside held Northgate’s offense to 212 total yards and just 34 passing as the Vikings wing-T tried to keep the ball away from a solid Seminoles lineup that’s currently 5-3 overall and 2-1 in the subregion behind Whitewater in second place. The Wildcats, at 7-1 and 4-0 have already clinched the top seed in 4B-AAAA.
A year after boasting a pair of 1,000-yard runners, Northgate’s biggest problem has come from 12 turnovers in its first seven games. At least four Viking running backs have coughed the ball up twice so far this year.
Fullback T.J. Womack and tailback Michael Willis have still managed to combine for over 800 of Northgate’s 1,233 yards rushing and half of its 10 touchdowns. The Vikings are averaging just under 4.5 yards a carry.
Staying focused won’t be an issue for the Vikings as they know they almost have to win the final three games to return to this year’s state playoffs.
“We haven’t found away to win the ball game, we just need to find away to finish now,” Walburn said.
There are several similarities between the two teams. Last season, Northgate enjoyed its best season in school history with a 10-0 record. Two years ago, Starr’s Mill went 14-1 and lost in Class AAAA Finals in the Georgia Dome
The Panthers come into game with a 2-5 record and an 0-2 mark in Region 4B-AAAAA. Their road hasn’t been any easier after losing last year’s 1,300-yard rusher John Smith during the preseason.
Walburn expects the Vikings to face a tough challenge in Fayetteville Friday night.
“The first thing that stands out is they are well coached,” Walburn said. “Chad (Phillips) was there when coach Mike Earwood took this team to Dome two years ago. You can tell there kids have been in the weight room, you can tell they are strong. They played for the state title two years ago, and now they are rebuilding.”