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Warrior Early Season Win Streak Stiff Armed By Tough Regional Play

Mark Hayes
Last Game: Warrior senior football players file onto the field for Senior Game halftime festivities.

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On Sept. 8 the Warrior football team won its third game in a row to start the season in the heady undefeated perch of 3 and 0. Seven games later, the entire season crashed back to earth as the team absorbed a seven-game losing streak to end the season. The 2017 campaign was one that saw the perennially challenged program make strides but the team yet again faced cruel headwinds as it hit tough region play.

The Warriors started out the season strong with an upset 21 to 7 victory over arch-rival Grady. The team built on this season-opening emotional high with a 20 to 7 win over KIPP Atlanta. Early season momentum continued with the team’s 14 to 0 shutout victory over Dunwoody. Little did the sky-high Warriors know that the win over the Wildcats would be the final win of the season due to a stretch of seven straight losses against top teams in their region. Some of the losses were close but they also included lopsided events such as a 45-to-0 loss against Centennial and a season-closing 44-to-8 loss against Cambridge.

Heading into this season, the Warriors spent large amounts of time working in the weight room and on the practice field. The heavy work allowed for sophomore quarterback Wiley Hartley and his teammates to come out in midseason form. “The tough offseason and hard work not only prepared us physically, but mentally also,” Hartley said.

Hartley, the team’s starting quarterback, sustained one of the more prominent injuries during the season. His season ended after the Centennial game when he injured his wrist. After the starting signal-caller went down, he was succeeded by freshman quarterback Jack O’Kelley. O’Kelley himself also was injured during the Northview game and had to be replaced by junior interim-quarterback Jamal Clay. Senior Dominic Ham was then drafted into quarterback play to close out the season.

Although winning is the ultimate goal, both winning and losing streaks were valuable for the team in terms of the lessons learned, said junior defensive end Enzo Vasallo. “We learned that we can not fold and give up when things aren’t going our way,” he said. “We have to keep fighting until the finish.”

At the conclusion of the Cambridge game among players there were some sad faces, particularly among the Warrior seniors who had played their last game in yet another losing season. But veterans and senior Ale Marin spoke toward the positives seen this season. “It’s sad for some of us to think we’d never play a high school football again,” he said. “But it was also really fun since we bonded close as a team and had some success.”

From a strict win-loss perspective, the 2017 season didn’t pan out as planned. But for the players under the direction of head coach Jeremy Gainer, there was real progress. Three wins along with consistent competitive play was a marked improvement compared to the 2016 one-win campaign. From streaks to injuries, the Warriors learned to push and struggle all the way to the very finish. Wins. Losses. Lessons. As they played, the football Warriors of 2017 built valuable building blocks for future seasons of glory for North Atlanta football.

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Warrior Early Season Win Streak Stiff Armed By Tough Regional Play