“If a tree falls down in the middle of a forest, does anyone really hear it?” The same can be said for “If a blowout happens in front of an empty stadium, does it really happen?” Unfortunately for Grady High School, that is exactly the case. The North Atlanta Warriors faced off against their in-town rival Grady Knights last Saturday night for their traditional early-season matchup, however the atmosphere was much different this year. There were no colorful themes or pumped up crowds to rock the stands, and although the cheerleaders were still present they faced the field instead of the barren empty seats. Instead of a stadium packed with two exuberant student sections, the two Metro-Atlanta squads played in front of an empty crowd aside from several street viewers due to the pandemic. Despite the unfortunate change in scenery, many of the players on the team are thankful they get to show the hard work they have put in amid the ambiguity of a season even happening following the cancellation of the Wheeler game due to COVID. “I believe adversity typifies this team,” said senior defensive back Tony Moore. “I’ve never seen a mentally stronger group of guys, it keeps us together knowing we all have each other’s back during these complicated times.”
The Warriors’ stout defense got off to a strong part in the first quarter, as they left their fingerprints all in the Grady backfield, stuffing the run and getting to the quarterback quickly. The Warriors offense saw a different gameplan from their 13-7 win against Jackson, as they mainly centered their early attack around the RPO rather than the run game. Although the offense got off to a slow start, the defense created points early thanks to a pick 6 from senior Colin Hanley.
Following a quiet first quarter, the Dubs offense went full throttle in the second to match the level of success their defense was already having. North Atlanta started off the second quarter with a short rushing touchdown from Ja’den Grinston, putting the Warriors up 14-0. Following a huge play that put Grady in the red zone the next drive, the Warriors defense held up again, not allowing a score as Grady muffed the eventual field goal, being one of several special teams errors on the part of the Knights. The Dubs turned that momentum into a 52 yard strike from Jack O’Kelley to Syre Stewart for 6, putting the Warriors up three touchdowns. The defense further created opportunities for the offense as a forced interception set the Warriors up at the Knights’ 27 yard-line to start their next possession. O’Kelley then found Ned Coleman for a 27 yard touchdown at the end of the half on a crucial third and ten, giving the Dubs a commanding 28-0 lead at halftime.
The second half saw less action on the offensive side of the ball as the Dubs took their foot off the gas to burn the clock and finish the game out quickly. However, the defense remained stout, forcing two red zone stops and not allowing a single Knight point throughout the entire contest. As the Warriors were driving down the field in the middle of the 3rd up 28-0, a Grady player made a close sideline tackle on quarterback Jack O’Kelley, spurring some sparks from the Warrior bench. Both teams were chippy throughout the game, but at the end of the day the scoreboard does all the talking. O’Kelley finished off that possession with another touchdown to seemingly-favorited target Ned Coleman, extending the Warrior lead to an astonishing 35-0. The Warriors finished out the game with the ball inside the Grady red zone when the clock hit zero, extending the Dubs’ win-streak over their inner-city rival. Senior Ned Coleman was fired up after his star performance against the Knights, but he also emphasized the next steps the team still needs to take. “I’m pumped to beat Grady and it feels great to beat them four years in a row,” said Coleman. “This one win can be and is exciting especially under our new coach, but we have to focus on the rest of our season and fixing our mistakes to become better players and a better team overall.”
Dub players said they are happy to start this year’s campaign at 2 and 0 and to get morale-boosting wins over other APS schools. But team leaders say that there’s no complacency among players as they head into next week’s game against Pebblebrook. “Sure the Grady win is always a big deal for us because they are a rival and we respect that program a lot,” said senior quarterback Jack O’Kelley. “But this is a different kind of season and there are plenty of other tests in front of us. There’s a lot more work to do.”
North Atlanta will be looking to ride their undefeated record and impressive win over Grady into their matchup on the road against a 3-1 Pebblebrook squad on October 9. Although the rest of the season remains up in the air due to the ambiguity caused by COVID, the team is looking to show that they can play well in their new region and hopefully return to the state playoffs come this off-season. Go Dubs!