Northside provided almost no suspense on offense and did not necessarily dive deep into the playbook.
In fact, the Eagles were one-dimensional.
Willie Jordan was the one dimension, and that was simply good enough.
Jordan set one program record by halftime and another shortly after the break as the Eagles held off a fourth-quarter rally for a 30-21 win Friday night over Allatoona in a GHSA Class AAAAA semifinal at Mercer University Stadium.
For someone who admitted to falling down a few times Monday when the Eagles practiced on Mercer’s FieldTurf, Jordan sure had his balance in the biggest game of his life.
“I got a little used to it,” he said after carrying 40 times for 231 yards and three touchdowns. “I couldn’t fall down this time.”
Jordan did major damage on offense, and Northside’s defense was solid for three quarters, but the Buccaneers made the Eagles sweat with two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
“You gotta fight for your life,” Northside head coach Kevin Kinsler said. “I told everybody it was going to be a 48-minute ballgame. Last week, they came back from 17-7 down.
“I didn’t think it was going to be any different.”
Junior place-kicker Justin Alonso had a huge game, as well, nailing field goals of 39, 26 and 23 yards.
The win put Northside into its first state championship game since 2009, with the Eagles improving to 13-1. Allatoona’s season ended at 13-1.
Northside will play Mays at 8 p.m. on Friday night in the title game. And the record-setting Jordan will be ready.
“I came out fired up because I wanted to get over this hump,” he said of the championship-game drought. “That’s all our mindset. ‘We’re gonna get over this hump.’ ”
Jordan passed the 2,000-yard mark for the season on the first snap of Northside’s second possession, after he gained 58 on their first drive. His two first-half touchdowns gave him the program single-season record with 30, and he set the single-season rushing yards record in the first half, passing Tijuan Green’s 2,035 yards.
Jordan’s third-quarter touchdown put him in first on the Northside all-time career rushing touchdown list with 53.
But it’s what’s next on the schedule that Jordan said would keep him awake, as tired as he might be.
“I got a little teary-eyed on the sideline,” Jordan said. “I couldn’t believe it. A dream come true.”
There was more suspense than perhaps expected in the final 12 minutes, which started with the Eagles up 27-7 and the Bucs on their own 22.
Northside’s pass defense struggled as Allatoona moved down the field, getting a highlight-reel touchdown catch from Zach Nichols to pull the Bucs within 27-14 with 9:50 left in the game.
The Eagles ate up almost five minutes before punting, but the Bucs needed less than a minute to cover 80 yards. Brandon Rainey hauled in a 46-yard pass to set up a 21-yard throwback pass to Bryant Dallas, who didn’t get much resistance from the Northside defense en route to the score.
“I think we were so worried about the run, we let them slip in a couple passes deep,” sophomore defensive back Tae Daley said. “We let them get a lot of momentum coming back.”
But that left 3:54 on the clock for Northside, now owning a 27-21 lead. The Eagles consumed 2:20 before getting a 23-yard field goal from Alonso to finally seal it.
Northside went 69 yards on 10 plays to open the game with a 14-yard score from Jordan. He passed 2,000 yards for the season on the next possession, which preceded a game-tying Allatoona score through the air.
Jordan topped Green midway through the next trip, which ended with a 2-yard Jordan score.
Alonso’s first field goal followed a Rakwon Young interception, and he added a 26-yarder with 16.2 seconds left in the half.
The Bucs were in no hurry in the third quarter, even after Jordan’s 2-yard touchdown run ended a 15-play, 99-yard drive that ate up 6:04. They did get going, but the defense couldn’t force any quick Northside possessions to help the cause.
Allatoona’s attack to a hit on its second possession when when standout running back Russell Halimon, a 2,200-yard rusher himself, limped off the field and didn’t return. Soon enough, he was on crutches.
Northside’s defense didn’t let Joshua Bettistea, the Bucs’ top back a year ago, get anything going. The passing game got the Bucs back in it but not far enough.
“We’ve been going at it for these last five years, trying to get over this hump,” Jordan said. “But we still haven’t got our goal yet.”