Isaiah Nelson had two interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown, and Northside picked off four passes while the offense took advantage as the No. 4 Eagles knocked off No. 1 Lee County 26-7 on Friday night in a GHSA Region 1-6A battle.
The Trojans were No. 1 for the first time ever after dumping then-No. 1 Houston County 55-29 last week, but the Trojans had the tables turned by a defense that was steady all night and a Northside offense that forced Lee County’s defense to spend a lot of time on the field.
Northside rushed for 197 yards, 150 coming from quarterback Tobias Oliver, who stunned the Trojans with an 84-yard run late in the first half that put the Eagles up 13-0 at halftime. The Eagles’ defense held the Trojans to 25 yards rushing, and the lone touchdown came after Shaun Rountree blocked a punt in the early part of the fourth quarter.
Northside improved to 7-1 and 1-1 while Lee County fell to 6-0 and 1-1.
The Eagles ran for about 185 more yards than the Trojans had given up on the ground all season. And Oliver’s two touchdowns — he added a 34-yarder up the middle in the fourth quarter — matched the season total of rushing scores against the Trojans. Lee County managed only 203 yards of total offense, about half of their average.
Lee County got a short field after blocking a punt in the fourth quarter to set up its lone score. Another threat ended with Nelson’s interception in the end zone.
Five who mattered
Nelson: The senior was in the right position and read the play on both interceptions. His second interception came in the end zone on an underthrown ball late in the third quarter and helped keep Lee County from making it a tighter game.
Oliver: He had a number of negative plays, no surprise against that defense, but ran the offense well and frustrated the Trojans with his escapability and reading of the option, especially on the two touchdown runs.
Ham Williams, Caleb Kelly and Larry Thomas: Northside’s center and two guards spent the night going up against standout noseguard Aubrey Solomon, as well as other quality defenders. The trio neutralized Solomon while also preventing any other Trojans from making big plays while they focused double-teams on Solomon.
Lee County started on its 45 after a punt and stalled, but the Trojans’ punt and a penalty pinned Northside on the Eagles’ 5 with 3:03 left in the first half of a 6-0 game. On the fourth play, Oliver executed a perfect fake handoff to the left and kept up the middle and to the right for an 84-yard touchdown run, getting an escort much of the way from wideout Marquaevious Williams. It was a stunner for the Trojans’ defense and a bit of a statement for the Eagles’ offense.
Versatile noseguard: Solomon, who doesn’t look a normal 300-pounder, also serves as a personal protector on punts.
Streak avoided: Northside avoided its first two-game regular-season losing streak since 1997 when the Eagles lost 14-0 to Peach County and R.E. Lee of Montgomery, Alabama, in their second and third games of the year. Northside finished 9-4 that year in Class 4A and lost to Tift County in the quarterfinals.
Dandy defense: Northside, which got a superb game from all phases of its defense, held Lee County to 206 yards below its normal rushing night.
A quiet night: Some Northside coaches thought Solomon had been held without a tackle, but center Williams kept count. “I think I counted up about three (tackles).”
They said it
Lee County head coach Dean Fabrizio: “You can’t commit ... What’d we have, four turnovers? Four or five turnovers, including a pick-six, and they had none. We knew we were going to have to be at our best to beat them, to have a chance to beat them.”
Northside head coach Kevin Kinsler on the defensive effort: “I think our defense has shown up every week and played hard. The biggest thing is they just love what they’re doing. They enjoy playing hard like that. The thing about playing defensive football, even if you screw up, if you’re going full speed, you can still make plays if you screw up. They just came up time and time again.”
Fabrizio on his defense wearing down: “I was proud of our effort, especially on defense. But when you’re on the field as much as we were (Friday), it’s tough. I gotta give Northside a lot of credit for the way they played. But you can’t go in and have all the turnovers and get none. When you’re minus-4 in turnovers, yo’re not gonna beat a team like this.”
Northside’s Kelly on Solomon: “It was definitely a challenge. It was a challenge. He’s a great athlete. We just had to make plays. Great players make great plays, so we had to come together and get him out of there.”
Kinsler on the offensive game plan: “People can’t really run the ball on (Lee County) and they get off the field quick. I just kept telling our guys, ‘Our plan was, we were just gonna go at them, go at them, go at them, and there’ll be some negative plays. But you got to just line back up and stick with the plan and go at them and at them.’ I said those 3-yard runs will become 5-yard runs. I said, ‘Late in the second half, if you stay at them, some of them are going to start opening up.’ ”
Fabrizio on Oliver’s second-quarter 84-yard touchdown run: “I think right before the half, the big touchdown run was a mometum-changer. It’s 6-0. We thought we had them backed up on third down, we were about ready to take a timeout and they were able to complete a pass for a first down. There was what, a minute left? We blow an assignment, their quarterback makes a move and makes a great run. That was a huge play in the game.”
Northside hosts Coffee on Friday.