A week ago, Northside was rested, anxious and ready to rip into Grovetown in the first round of the GHSA Class 6A playoffs.
And the Eagles played like all of that, hammering the Warriors 52-0 for their biggest postseason margin of victory ever, yet only the second highest-point total of the season.
Grovetown was the third Northside opponent this season held without a touchdown, so the Eagles are again rested, and almost as anxious for the second round.
That happens at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at McConnell-Talbert Stadium when Langston Hughes comes to town.
The Eagles appear to be as ready for this week as they were last week rather than starting the week overconfident after such a rousing win.
“The kids understand that you just go week to week,” Northside head coach Kevin Kinsler said. “You’ve got to put everything into that week. You’ve got to win to play again.”
Northside is in the second round for the fifth season under seventh-year head coach Kinsler, and 18th time in the past 20 seasons. That tradition goes a long way toward the businesslike approach.
“Thankfully, we’ve got a lot of older kids that are experienced,” said Kinsler, who has several three-year starters on both sides of the ball. “They understand what it’s about. They watch video on the other team. They realize that everybody at this point is a really good team.”
And the Eagles remember the rare early exit, like last year’s first-round loss at home to Ware County.
Northside is going for a 10-win season for the 22nd time in program history. On the other hand, Hughes is in rare air, in only its eighth season, all under head coach Willie Cannon.
The Panthers began with three losing seasons, followed with consecutive 10-2 marks and then 9-3 before dropping to 5-6 last season, and still making the playoffs.
In 2015, three of the losses were by 10 points or fewer.
Hughes, located about 10 miles west of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, is 8-3, and again isn’t far from an even more sterling record.
The Panthers lost 23-19 to then-No. 8 Alexander and 37-35 to then-No. 8 Northgate in a three-week span. The other loss was to Mays, 47-28 on Sept. 9. Two of the losses were at home, and Hughes has been competitive on the road the past two seasons.
So the Eagles are pretty much facing a team of 10-win ability and region champion caliber.
“Northgate had to kick a field goal on the last play of the game to beat them,” Kinsler said. “Alexander, who finished second in that region, actually got a turnover and had about a 30-yard drive at the end of the game and scored on their last possession to beat them.”
Mays got a big lead, but Hughes came back and played it even after that.
“They’re just two or three plays away from possibly being a one seed,” Kinsler said. “They’ve got some guys … You’ve got to get ready for them.”
The Panthers bring a balanced offense that, like Northside, is very much keyed by the quarterback, albeit a bit differently.
Isaiah Green has completed 56.1 percent of his passes for 2,218 yards and 23 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. He has 248 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground.
Northside’s Tobias Oliver has connected on 60.5 percent of his tries for 1,308 yards, 14 touchdowns and five interceptions, adding 1,140 yards rushing with 15 touchdowns.
So Green has accounted for 2,466 yards and 30 touchdowns to Oliver’s 2,448 yards and 29 touchdowns this season.
Oliver has 3,489 career passing yards, 209 yards behind all-time Northside leader Marques Ivory. He is also in fifth place all-time at Northside with 2,896 rushing yards, 226 yards behind fourth-place Leonard Goolsby.
Both the Eagles and Panthers have depth in the backfield, and steady, fast defenses.
Sophomore Charlie Thomas leads Hughes with 10.9 tackles a game, and 10 tackles for loss, the same as senior Chris Christian, who is second with 7.7 tackles a game.
Defensive end Josh Swilling has some serious football bloodlines in father Ken Swilling, part of Georgia Tech’s 1990 national title team, and uncle Pat, another Yellow Jackets standout who had a long career in the NFL, mostly with New Orleans.
Josh Swilling has 8.5 sacks.
Northside’s defense is led by defensive back Isaiah Nelson (66.5 tackles, three interceptions) and linebacker Kam Burnett (62 tackles, 17 for loss). Another 11 Eagles have between 20 and 44.5 tackles, and more than half of Greg Coger’s tackles (12 of 21.5) are for loss.
Overall, the teams are fairly similar, especially on defense.
“They’ve been pretty consistent in the videos I’ve seen,” Kinsler said. “Defense runs around and plays hard. Offense is pretty balanced. Like I said, they’re real close to being a one seed.”