High School Football
Vikings need to get offensive against unbeaten Creekside
by Chris Goltermann
Tommy Walburn will be the first to admit that he doesn’t know as much football as Falcons head coach Mike Smith. But the offenses in Atlanta and at Northgate share similar concerns nowadays.
Thankfully, the Vikings have nothing to do with injuries to star players or a 1-4 start.
Instead, putting points on the scoreboard, especially inside its own 20-yard line, has been a concern for Northgate as much as it has been for a Falcons team that couldn’t take advantage of all of its opportunities in a loss to the Jets on Monday night.
The Vikings (3-3) will have to improve that output if they hope to keep up with an undefeated and state-ranked Creekside lineup that is averaging an impressive 40.1 points a game and hasn’t scored less than 33 since an impressive season-opening win over defending Region 2-AAAAAA champion Langston Hughes.
Northgate is 0-5 since 2004 against Creekside heading into Friday’s game at The Swamp, including last year’s 20-16 loss at Henry Seldon Field.
The 6-0 Seminoles, who have built an impressive nucleus of talent to surround twin seniors Evan and Elliott Berry under first-year head coach Olten Downs, haven’t been challenged since then while coming off a dominating 37-3 win over Starr’s Mill to begin the 4B-AAAAA schedule last week.
“He’s come in there and done a good job of coaching them. They’re well disciplined. I’ve been real impressed with the way they play football,” Walburn said of Creekside and Downs. “Defensively they’re ‘Griffin-like.’ They’ve got some size. To me what impresses me more than their size, is they’ve got 11 athletes. Whitewater was tremendously impressive in their stand up positions and Creekside may even be better. Their linebackers and defensive backs look like college players. That’s the way it is. They’re really good.”
Northgate’s 17-6 loss to Whitewater in its subregion opener last Friday was as much a tale to two halves, with the Vikings running out of steam after playing what Walburn felt like was “a first half that was as good as we’ve played in the last couple years.”
But despite racking up 14 first downs, finding the end zone was an issue in a game where Northgate was held to 220 total yards of offense while successful on 3 of 10 third-down situations. The Vikings also missed two field-goal opportunities and an extra-point a week after being perfect in each of those areas in a 17-14 win over Union Grove.
Compounding those numbers was Whitewater’s ability to convert in the same scenarios.
“The story of that game was the defense played well for the most part, but we didn’t get off the field on three third downs and a couple of them they were able to score or change field position,” Walburn said. “We had several chances to put points on the board and didn’t, and that came back to bite us.”
Against a defense that has rallied around the tragic death of junior safety De’Antre Turman as the result of a tackle during Creekside’s scrimmage against Banneker, the Vikings will have to find a way to buck its struggles this year against top opponents.
Northgate (3-3) has scored just 23 combined in its first two games against Region 4-AAAAA opponents while about to conclude an important three-game trek against arguably the best teams in the region prior to a bye week.
The Vikings’ wing-T, an offense that has gone from a majority to a minority in high school with the emergence of the spread, could give Creekside problems considering the Seminoles have played mostly pass-oriented offenses. But Northgate will have to execute better than they in games against top opponents where they’ve gone 1-3 so far with the lone victory a 17-14 squeaker over Union Grove.
Of the Vikings’ 126 points scored through six games, 96 came in back-to-back victories against North Clayton and Ola, which enter this week with a combined 1-10 record.
The effort, however, hasn’t been an issue. Outside of a late interception on a long pass attempt and a couple of penalties, the Vikings are coming off a mistake-free effort.
“And we’ll have to play a mistake free game this week to have a chance,” against Creekside, Walburn said.
“We’ve been making a lot of first downs, but when you make first downs you have to have some points to show for it,” he added. “Because the team with the most points, wins. We’ve just sputtered inside the red zone and that’s something we’ve got to work on.”
If the Seminoles have a weak spot, it’s not found on paper for a program that has gotten out of the shadow of being home to the infamous Berry brothers led by Kansas City cornerback Eric.
Younger twins Evan and Elliott, who played on both sides of the ball as freshmen and sophomores, have settled in as defensive stalwarts as seniors, both at 6-0 and between 195 and 200 pounds.
Evan ran the season-opening kickoff back for a touchdown against Hughes in a victory where Elliott added an interception.
“They’re playing mostly defense. They can play [offense], but the films that we have on them, they haven’t even had a close game to do that,” Walburn said. “But they’re very good, as good as anybody we’ll play all year.”
Walburn has been impressed with Seminoles running backs Bricen Terry, a 5-8, 195-pound junior, and Dexter Knox, a 5-9, 190-pound senior, both of whom are capable of big gains in front of “a big ole’ offensive line.” Knox had 102 yards on just eight carries in lopsided win over Forest Park. Terry ran for 143 yards and two scores in a 33-17 win over Tri-Cities.
The depth up front includes tackles Ronald Bell (6-5, 310) and Marquel Harrell (6-4, 289), senior center Robbie Stephenson (6-4, 246) and senior guard Robert Kimble (6-3, 275), in what should be a considerable size advantage against the Vikings.
The Vikings defense, which picked up 18 and 17 tackles, respectively from linebackers Ryan Fagerstrom and James Skalski last week while playing without star safety Torres Johnson, will have to eliminate Creekside’s tendencies for big plays in order to be successful.
“That’s the way that they’ve hurt everybody they’ve played. You’ll stop them a couple downs and all of a sudden one of those backs will break out and go a long way, or they’ll throw a pass and they’ve got big tall receivers,” said Walburn. “The quarterback also does a good job. I’ve been just as impressed with their special teams this year.”