The star: Ringgold quarterback Slade Dale had 22 carries for 164 yards and four TDs and passed for 220 yards and three scores.
Up next: Ringgold (9-2) hosts Cedar Grove in the GHSA second round.
RINGGOLD, Ga. - Call it courage. Or justice, or karma, or law of averages, or maybe big dumb luck.
Ringgold football coach Robert Akins called it "persistence."
What matters is that the Tigers took the best sixth-ranked North Hall had to offer and pulled out their first-ever GHSA playoff win Friday night, 55-54 over the Trojans in four remarkable regulation quarters.
"To me, this is Ringgold's biggest win ever because it's a playoff game," said Akins, who learned moments before that the Tigers would be hosting Cedar Grove next week after its four-overtime upset of Elbert County. "This was a rough night for our defense: Trying to tackle [North Hall quarterback Andrew] Smith was like trying to tackle a squirrel. But our offense did everything we could ask all night long."
Senior quarterback Slade Dale, who pointed at this moment all summer long as a goal to be attained, gave the Tigers the game of his life. Dale ran the ball 22 times for 164 yards and four touchdowns -- including the Tigers' last one, from 14 yards out, with 1:43 to play. He also fired three touchdown passes, including two to Christian Plott -- each catch was more spectacular than even the throw -- and 220 yards.
Dale's score tied the game at 54, but Abel Vargas tacked on the PAT for the all-important one-point lead. That wound up being a key play becaused North Hall kicker Chris Dennis had his second PAT miss of the night after Destin Bennett's touchdown with 4:17 left in the game.
But because the Trojans had shown no inclination to stop Ringgold, North Hall coach Bob Christmas called for an onside kick. One lone Tiger, J.T. Roach, was alert on the play and recovered it short of 10 yards while surrounded by five Trojans.
"We hadn't stopped them all night," Christmas said. "We felt if we recovered the kick, we could run out the clock. With a better kick, we might have."
Instead, it left Ringgold with a short field. Dale needed omly six plays to get the go-ahead touchdown.
"I was afraid 1:43 was too much time," Akins said. "We knew they'd trap us -- it's what they did all night."
All the Trojans did was drive to the Tigers' 23, where they were called for motion while lining up for a go-ahead field goal. That 5 yards may have been the difference, as Dennis' 45-yard attempt drilled the crossbar dead center to settle the verdict.
It felt to many of the Ringgold loyalists who turned out on this misty night that their Tigers took North Hall's best shot in the first half. Indeed, the Trojans had to spend their halftime session figuring out how they losts leads of 21-7, 28-14 and 35-28 along the way. The Tigers' only lead was their last.
For Ringgold (9-2), Dale wound up with 384 total yards. For North Hall (8-3), sophomore running back Zac Little carried the ball 32 times for 275 yards.
Contact David Jenkins at firstname.lastname@example.org