‘Bear’ of a challenge for Viking defense
by Doug Gorman
Northgate head coach Tommy Walburn wasn’t happy with the outcome of last Friday’s season-opener against Heritage-Conyers.
He did, however, praise the effort of the Vikings’ defense despite giving up a 16-play, 78-yard touchdown drive in the last minute of the game that resulted in a 14-7 loss to the Patriots with 15 seconds to go.
"The negatives were the scoreboard and the field position," said Walburn. "We had the field position in the third quarter and could never work it down to even field-goal range. The complexion of the game was just like last year. It was nip and tuck all the way. I thought it was a terrific effort by our defense.”
Now, Northgate is ready to move on.
“It took me awhile to get over that one,” Walburn said. “Win, lose or draw, I am usually over them pretty quickly, but it took me until Saturday to bounce back from this one because I really think we had a chance to win.” Walburn and his team’s focus has now shifted to the task of stopping powerhouse Griffin.
The Vikings will need a solid effort in all aspects of the game if it hopes to pull the upset on the road against the Bears.
Northgate went into the season opener with a few question marks on the defensive side of the football, especially how to replace three starters who are now playing college football at the Division I level.
Gone from the defensive front line are Sean Spencer (Navy) and Andre Johnson (Georgia). The Vikings also replaced Brandon Facyson (Virginia Tech) in the secondary.
Despite the loss, new players stepped it up on the defensive side of the ball with big game against the Heritage.
Linebacker Ryan Fagerstrom led the way with 22 tackles. James Skalski also got in on two quarterback sacks. Torres Johnson added eight tackles from his defensive backfield spot.
“We were really excited to be able to play, Skalski said. “We were flying around and making some big plays. “We just have to work hard, and hopefully we will have a better result this week.”
Despite the loss, Walburn knows the defense grew up a little bit.
“We learned a lot from that game that hopefully will help us in the Griffin game, and down the road,” Walburn said.”
Fagerstrom thinks the defense is going to surprise a lot of people this year despite getting hit hard by graduation.
“The emotions were high,” he said. “It’s the first game of the season, and everybody wants to come out and play the best they can. It was unfortunate we got a loss, but everybody was playing together. We are ready to rebound this week.”
The defense will have to be ready to tangle with the Bears’ high powered offense Friday night.
“They show us a lot of speed, they like the spread the field. It will high-tempo, and we just going to have to work to stay with them,” Skalski said.
In last week’s season opener, Griffin found itself in a shootout, outlasting Dutchtown 59-35.
“I will say this about Griffin, we will not see a more athletic team all year,” Walburn said. The Bears like to throw to their wide receivers, often putting four on the field at the same time.
“I don’t know their names, but they all can play,” he said. “They are all over six-feet and they can all run too.”
However, Walburn knows the Bears aren’t just a one-dimensional team.
“They have a good running back, and they are really good on defense,” he said. They are quick and it will be a real challenge for us early in the season.”
Walburn likes the early-season test against Griffin.
The Bears have made the playoffs 12 years in a row, including last year’s 9-2 mark.
Griffin’s win total in 2012 included a 35-6 victory over the Vikings.
“I like scheduling teams like this because it is a really good test as to where your program stands,” Walburn said. “If we go over there and don’t play well it could be embarrassing.” They can explode in a hurry, but it is going to be a challenge we look forward to.”
Johnson knows the defense is going to have to come up with some big stops to keep the Bears off the scoreboard.
“We are just going to have to come out there and be physical,” Johnson said, “They are going to try and run it down our throats. The will probably run the ball to set up the pass, and we are going to have to be ready.”
Northgate still hasn’t settled in on a starting quarterback heading into the second-game of the season with the Bears.
Last week against Heritage, both Tyler Rowland and Bo Zachary shared the load, and the team still has some question at the position.
“We had a lot of gun stuff in there for Bo, but we were having trouble getting him the snaps, so we had to go under center and Tyler is a little more comfortable under center, so Tyler got most of the plays in the second half. We feel like we have two really good quarterbacks, but you don’t want it to turn into the negative situation. We are going to have to settle in on a situation, whether we platoon or go with one person. The good thing is we are still in the non-region part of our schedule.”