Prep Football: Northgate turns attention to subregion openerBy CHRIS GOLTERMANN
As much as last week’s Homecoming loss befuddled Northgate head coach Tommy Walburn, one he didn’t shy from calling the most disappointing in his three years with the Vikings, there hasn’t been any signs of panic coming from the practice field off Fischer Road — even with the toughest challenge of the season at hand on Friday.
“We’re looking for an opportunity to show we’re not as bad as we played the other night,” Walburn said of a 23-0 loss to Union Grove, while also tipping his cap to the Wolverines and a dominating effort by fullback Derrick Craine. “You’ve got to give credit to them cause they’re a good football team. [But] I was disappointed cause we just didn’t compete and it’s the first time that I’ve been here that we didn’t compete. We feel like we took a couple steps back last week.”
After playing in late October to close the region schedule in each of the last two years, a loss this week will present an immediate detour in what will be a four-week race for positioning within the division prior to the Nov. 2 region crossover to decide state playoff berths.
“Our goal right now as a football team is to be playing in that tenth game for a playoff spot,” Walburn said. “That tenth game needs to mean something. The good thing about the last four games is that we’re playing teams we all feel like are a rival.”
The intensity will ramp itself more than a few notches this week in more ways than one. The Wildcats surely haven’t forget last year’s 27-24 loss at Henry Seldon Field where the Vikings rallied from a 17-0 deficit in the third quarter. It cost Whitewater a state playoff berth in more ways than one, first losing an automatic berth as a subregion champion and then falling to an up-and-coming Griffin lineup in last year’s Region 3-AAAA crossover to close the season at 7-3.
Since a humbling 41-3 loss to Region 1-AAAAAA power Coffee, now 4-1, Whitewater has put together four dominating victories over opponents by an average score of 40-10. While three currently have losing records, the other came against the same Union Grove lineup that seemed unstoppable last week at Northgate.
The Wildcats began the season looking to fill major holes on offense at quarterback, running back and offensive line to graduation, but have steadily gained momentum. Its multiple-I attack pounded out five rushing touchdowns last week against Forest Park led by returning junior Kendall Conley.
A year after sharing carries with former Wildcat Trey Wafford, Conley is now joined by sophomore Christian Wafford through much the same early success. Standout wrestler Austin Penland came through a competitive preseason as the starting quarterback, with seniors Pat Dalton (6-7, 350) and Levi Kerlin (6-2, 280) tapped to hold the line after the loss of current Kentucky freshman Jordan Watson.
Whitewater will rely on a deep core of starting linebackers in its 3-5 formation to try and slow Northgate’s wing-T offense this week. Along with Wafford and Conley the group includes returning senior Joey Renta and junior Colton Clemons (6-0, 200).
“Right now I feel Whitewater is the best team in our subregion. They’ve got a lot of people coming back, especially on defense. Coach [Amos] McCreary does a good job of running that program over there,” said Walburn, who added of the team’s opening loss to Coffee, “That’s a different animal. That’s no measuring stick on how good they are. Just forget that one.”
Two weeks after showcasing its passing game behind senior first-year starting quarterback Josh Harrison, Northgate’s offense was stuck in neutral, netting just 140 yards rushing and 52 passing.
Three fumbles, including a pair by Viking running backs, along with finishing 1-for-5 among third-down conversions were at the root of last week’s woes despite a 110-yard effort from fullback T.J. Womack against Union Grove.
Through five games, Northgate runners have six touchdowns compared to eight fumbles, having already eclipsed last year’s total.
Injuries equally continue to hamper the lineup. Despite getting Benton Washington back from a broken hand that kept the running back out the first four games of the season, Northgate lost big senior defensive tackle DeAndre “Moose” Johnson to a deep leg bruise just before halftime against Union Grove.
The Georgia commitment spent this week watching practice from a golf cart and his status for Friday’s game is in jeopardy.
“It’s a lack of chemistry and continuity,” Walburn said, matter-of-factly. “Every time we get someone back, someone gets hurt.”
In hopes of jump-starting the offense this week, Northgate coaches have ramped up the physical intensity with a goal of creating better timing among the unit.
“I feel like we need to hit a little more in practice,” Walburn said. “The reason we hadn’t been doing so much of that is because we had so many people hurt and we’re scared to put somebody in there. We feel like that might be the reason our timing has been off on offense. We’re getting a false sense of security.”