Prep Football: Northgate gets back to winning ways
By CHRIS GOLTERMANN
Two steps back. One giant leap forward.
Northgate proved to be a much stronger and healthier team on Friday against North Clayton at Henry Seldon Field following a pair of tough losses to open the 2012 season.
On a night where Viking fans honored senior offensive tackle Austin Green, who is unable to play this year due to a heart ailment, by wearing green T-shirts with the words “Fear the Beard,” North Clayton greatest worry by halftime became Northgate’s restored depth on offense.
In the end, it was déjà vu all over again for the Eagles, who fell 42-7 at Henry Seldon Field last November in the first round of the Class AAAA state playoffs. This time, however, many of the faces in uniform — including Willis — were new.
With both Willis, who was a game-time decision, and receiver Brandon Facyson both back from ankle injuries, Northgate used the duo plus two other Viking runners on its first four plays, all of which gained eight or more yards to score on its opening drive and never look back.
“Just getting those guys back, getting Brandon back and getting Michael back, and we didn’t know if we were even going to have him tonight, helped us,” Northgate head coach Tommy Walburn said. “It wasn’t perfect. We have to learn to step on the accelerator, but that’s got to do with some inexperience on both sides of the ball. We’ll take it.”
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Northgate scored on three of its four possessions and racked up 12 first downs by halftime, eight coming the opening quarter.
By the end of the first half, which closed on Torres Johnson’s 1-yard touchdown plunge and a perfectly-timed fade pass from senior quarterback Josh Harrison to Facyson on a long 2-point conversion, Northgate was cruising 22-8 after scoring just twice in its opening two games against unbeaten Heritage-Conyers and Class AAAA No. 4 ranked Griffin.
“[North Clayton] got down 27-7 at halftime last week and came back. I reminded our guys about that at halftime,” Walburn said. “Coach Wiltz does a good job with them. They do a lot of good stuff on offense, their kids play hard.”
Defensively, the Vikings finally got a chance to benefit from its offensive success as well. After fumbling four times in the opening loss on Aug. 31, Northgate finished the victory without a turnover and in turn consistently pushed the Eagles backwards on first and second down.
North Clayton finished the game 4-for-9, however, on third down including two straight conversions on its only scoring drive after falling behind 14-0 following back-to-back Viking touchdown drives. Eagle quarterback Jeremy Daniels snuck in from the 1-yard line to finish a 12-play, 73-yard drive highlighted by a 15-yard pass and a 32-yard run, both involving senior running back Ladrius Mathis on third downs.
“Besides the time they drove the ball down the field, I think we pretty much controlled them,” Walburn said. “The key to that drive was the third [downs]. That’s something we have to get better at. You’re supposed to be so excited about third and 12 or third and 10, but that’s our worst down. We’ve got to work on that down the line.”
All the momentum was in Northgate’s favor, however, from the opening kickoff with the Vikings outgaining North Clayton 285 yards to 146. The Eagles only finished, though, with 81 net yards following 10 penalties, seven of which kept the team going backwards in the second half.
Willis was sprung by the line on an 8-yard run to cap off a 10-play, 73-yard march to begin the game that also featured carries from Johnson, Facyson and fullback T.J. Womack.
After holding the Eagles to three yards on its opening drive including a third-down tackle by senior defender DeAndre “Moose” Johnson with scouts from the University of Georgia expected in attendance, Northgate went 54 yards in just over four minutes. Back-to-back first-down passes from Harrison to Johnson and Facyson helped set up Willis’ second score from 9-yards out to push a two-score advantage with 2:30 still left in the first quarter.
Willis, despite his ankle feeling a bit sore by the second half according to Walburn, finished with 85 yards rushing on 12 carries, only two of which came after halftime. The senior’s last run came with one of 10 North Clayton penalties, a facemask call that directly led to Womack’s bulldozing 26-yard run where the converted guard left a pair of Eagle defenders on the turf for a 29-8 lead with 7:13 left in the third quarter.
SCORING SUMMARY – Northgate 29, North Clayton 8
North Clayton 0 8 0 0 — 8
Northgate 14 8 7 0 — 29
NG — Michael Willis 8 run (Zack Braun kick), 7:50
NG — Willis 9 run (Braun kick), 2:30
NC — Jeremy Daniels 1 run (Daniels pass to Devin Lewis), 7:25
NG — Torres Johnson 1 run (Josh Harrison pass to Brandon Facyson), :00
NG — T.J. Womack 26 run (Braun kick), 7:13