High School Football
Vikings face similar scenario to reaching playoffs
by Chris Goltermann
One year later, the situation hasn’t changed for a Northgate football team that has opened the Region 4B-AAAAA schedule at 0-2 heading into the final three games of the 2013 season.
The good news, however, is just about every player in uniform this fall was part of last year’s three-game win streak to close the regular season to clinch a trip to the 2012 state playoffs.
The Vikings (3-4, 0-2) will have to follow almost the same formula starting this Friday at home against Starr’s Mill (3-4, 1-1) in order to return to the postseason for the third consecutive year.
“There are a lot of teams that are out of any type of playoff possibilities and we’re still right in it,” Northgate head coach Tommy Walburn said. “To be in the playoffs, you should have to win some games down the stretch. If you don’t, you don’t deserve to be in the playoffs. The playoffs are for the teams that win.”
The Panthers put themselves in a similar position as Northgate last week by rallying past previously unbeaten McIntosh (6-1, 1-1). Led by standout senior running back John Smith, Starr’s Mill shook off an early 20-point deficit against the Chiefs to pull out a 45-27 victory that put the team back in the thick of a heated playoff race in a competitive B-subregion where only three of five schools have a chance to qualify for state.
Led by undefeated Creekside (3-0), which needs a win over McIntosh Friday to clinch first place, B-subregion teams have a combined record of 25-11 compared to a 12-29 mark by the six schools in 4A-AAAAA.
The two subregion champions automatically qualify for the state playoffs and the other two spots are determined by crossover games between the No. 2 and No. 3 finishers in each subregion.
To finish at least third in 4B-AAAAA and get a shot at the Class AAAAA playoffs during the Nov. 8 play-in game, Northgate will likely have to defeat both Starr’s Mill on Friday at Henry Seldon Field and then McIntosh on Nov. 1 in Peachtree City. Coming off a bye week, the Vikings got a chance to reevaluate themselves following a 41-13 loss that began to spiral out of control in the closing minutes of the first half.
After cutting an early deficit to 21-7 with 1:15 to play before halftime, Northgate was unable to stop Creekside from regaining a 21-point advantage at the break. The Vikings still managed 277 yards compared to 326 by the Seminoles.
But big plays — including an interception return for a Creekside touchdown — were the difference between a victory and defeat.
“We got overwhelmed by their athletes,” Walburn said. “But if you look at the film, when it was 21-7, we moved the ball. We had more first downs than they had. But with them it was ‘boom’, they’re gone. They do that every week. With teams like that, your margin for error is so small.”
Starr’s Mill has been able to turnaround a season where it suffered tough non-region losses to North Cobb (48-7) and West Forsyth (33-29) before letting Drew rally back for a disappointing 35-34 loss in a 4-AAAAA crossover game where it held a double-digit lead early.
Led by the return of Smith from a season-ending leg injury suffered early in 2012, the Panthers are averaging 27.1 points-per-game. Last week, the senior finished with 175 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries in the team’s spread wing-T offense.
A year ago, without Smith, Starr’s Mill scored over 17 points against just one opponent all season — doing it twice against Mt. Zion-Jonesboro — while finishing with a 14.6 scoring average.
Last week against McIntosh, Panthers’ senior quarterback Kyle Moseley added two rushing touchdowns while also 15 of 22 passing for 216 yards and two more scores through the air, including an 83-yard catch and run by 6-foot-8 receiver Terence Harper.
“Starr’s Mill has that tradition,” Walburn said. “Even though the results over the last couple of years have not been like they’ve wanted them to be, they’re just a few years removed from playing for a state championship. Those kids now were still in the program then. They’ve always been coached well.”
Northgate’s defense managed eight tackles for loss against Creekside, holding the Seminoles to 127 yards rushing. But quarterback Dexter Knox finished 10 of 14 passing for 198 yards in an impressive outing.
Viking senior fullback T.J. Womack led the team with 113 of the team’s 199 rushing yards against Creekside.
But the team isn’t about to push the panic button heading into Friday.
“This is the time when football should be fun,” said Walburn, who has filled his team in on the playoff scenarios heading into this week, “But my thing is to focus on getting better every day and focus on coming out and being the best you can be every day in practice. That’s all you can control. The bottom line is you’ve got to beat somebody. That’s why it’s the playoffs.”