Ola (0-3) at Northgate (1-2)

Vikings look to avoid Homecoming letdown

by Chris Goltermann

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Northgate senior running back Benton Washington rushed for 172 yards and two touchdowns in last Friday's victory over North Clayton.

No disrespect to an 0-3 Ola team that has seen its share of tough luck this season, but if Northgate loses Friday's Homecoming game, the Vikings will have to take a good long look in the mirror.

A 23-0 collapse in last year's Homecoming to Union Grove was as much a result of letting some of the hoopla surrounding the festivities become more of a distraction as it was a case for a talented Wolverines lineup.

'I felt like last year, and not to take anything away from a real good Union Grove team, we were deadlegged,' Northgate head coach Tommy Walburn said. 'I knew from the second play of the game that we weren't going to win. They had expended too much emotions on everything else.'

Which is not to say either that Walburn dislikes Homecoming than that Friday night's kickoff at Henry Seldon Field presents an opportunity for what is best known in football as a trap game.

With a pair of showdowns at Union Grove in a chance for a bit of revenge, as well as a key Region 4B-AAAAA opener against Whitewater, within reach, it might be easy to overlook an Ola team that's been outscored 72-19 in its first three games, including last week's 24-6 loss at home to McIntosh.

Practices this week at Northgate, though, have taken a mood reserved for a lineup desperate for a win than one that has found a comfort zone following a dominating 33-7 win over North Clayton last week.

At 1-2, the Vikings may have finally been rewarded for two grueling nonregion games to open the season, one that fell out of reach in the final seconds and another 'Our kids understand that we're playing for down the road. They're intelligent enough to know that our goals are to get into the playoffs, win the region championship and compete for the state title,' Walburn said. 'We wanted to win those two ballgames. It's not like we went in there [afterwards] and kicked tables. We played about as well as we can play. I don't think we'll play a more athletic team than {Griffin].'

Ola, however, presents problems similar to ones the Vikings will face all season. The Mustangs, who at times have been their own worst enemy, are toughest at the line of scrimmage while returning the bulk of last year's offensive line.

Seniors Andrew Johnson (5-10, 245) and Andrew Wesson (6-2, 315) help lead the Mustang unit.

It's as much a reason why Northgate's defensive coaches have been trying to add depth to its front this week while mostly playing its four starters in the first first three games this season.

To their credit, defensive linemen Rashad Menefee and Nebiyou Maddox each had three hits behind the line of scrimmage last week against North Clayton while combining for three sacks Teammate Jackson Dorman also had a tackle for a loss in the win. But Walburn understands that younger players like Victor Taggart and Nick Heavner will need to get their feet wet in a rotation as the season progresses.

'Our defense has been solid all year,' Walburn said.

The coaching staff's decision to name a single starter at quarterback equally paid dividends on both sides of the ball, giving successor Tyler Rowland extra reps in practice and allowing Bo Zachary to work at new positions such as receiver and safety. Zachary immediately found himself on the field at safety shortly after linebacker James Skalski left the field in the first quarter. Viking senior Torres Johnson, who had 10 tackles against North Clayton, shifted to Skalski's position.

'Having one guy at quarterback getting the majority of the reps has helped. If we haven't had moved Bo to where he could play other positions, we might be in trouble,' Walburn said.

Offensively, Northgate easily surpassed both of its first outings of the season, racking up 400 yards rushing, the bulk of which on 34 attempts split equally between seniors Benton Washington and T.J. Womack, each of whom scored a pair of touchdowns. Washington finished with 172 yards and Womack added 125 in the win.

'We're going to have to throw the ball sometimes to loosen [opponents] up. But I think we got back to what we do well,' Walburn said. 'I think we got away from what has worked for us. We expanded the playbook too much. We cut the plays down [and] put a premium on executing the plays. The only way you can get better in football is repetition.'




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