POWDER SPRINGS — West Forsyth waltzed into Hillgrove Stadium and dominated the second half of a 40-28 second-round playoff victory after Hillgrove snatched every ounce of momentum.
The Wolverines stunned the Class AAAAA No. 4 Hawks, becoming the first Forsyth County team in 10 years to advance to the Georgia state quarterfinals. West (11-1) will travel to Grayson on Friday for an elite eight matchup with the undefeated, second-ranked Rams.
West running back Blake Roberts and wingback Jake Wieczorek both broke the century mark rushing. Roberts pounded in three 1-yard touchdown runs, and Wieczorek broke off end-around scampers for 10 and 46 yards in the fourth quarter to put the Hawks (11-1) away.
West’s first-ever playoff win came last Friday against Etowah. Both the Wolverines and Hawks were playing to extend their fourth varsity seasons.
West linebackers Hunter Belue and Josh Salo filled in for injured starters and intercepted quarterback Elijah Ironside. Belue blocked a punt, and Hillgrove netted zero offensive yards in the second half until two minutes remained in the third quarter.
By then, the Wolverines had surged ahead 26-21 on an A.J. Erdely run that culminated with a full-body stretch across the goal line by the lanky quarterback.
The 12-yard scramble came on the first snap after Belue charged through the line and stuffed punter Austin Trevors. Mohamed Camara recovered.
West, a 22-point underdog according to one projection system, would never trail again.
Hillgrove’s highly touted ground game produced 185 yards. The Wolverines defense shut down running back Kenyan Drake, holding the four-star Alabama commit to 39 yards on 19 carries. He scored all four of Hillgrove’s touchdowns, but never found a rhythm.
Drake displayed his open-field explosiveness just once, taking a lateral from Victor Sanchez and racing 70 yards to the end zone on West’s squib kickoff with 0.9 seconds left in the second quarter.
Roberts had churned across the goal line from a yard out to knot the game at 14-14, capping a drive that started on West’s 24. The Wolverines coverage unit appeared to have Sanchez swallowed up, but he flipped the ball to Drake at the last minute.
It was Drake’s second kick return touchdown of the year and his third score of the half. The first came from a yard out on Hillgrove’s initial possession.
West stopped the Hawks after one first down on the drive, but a running-into-the-punter penalty gave Hillgrove’s offense new life.
Ironside hit Drake on a 14-yard screen pass the next time the Hawks had the ball, giving Hillgrove a 14-7 lead with 2:12 left in the first quarter.
The teams traded turnovers on downs the next three possessions, and West forced Hillgrove to punt with less than four minutes left in the half.
Erdely, who completed 9 of 13 throws for 132 yards, took over at his own 24 with 3:34 left and proceeded to convert two third downs and a fourth-down conversion, West’s first successful one in three tries.
Roberts’ second touchdown came on West’s first possession of the second half after a Trevors punt netted just 20 yards. The point-after attempt was unsuccessful, but West was within a point, 21-20.
Roberts chugged for a game-high 111 yards on 24 carries. Belue's pivotal punt block came on Hillgrove’s next drive after three incomplete Ironside passes.
Salo and Belue followed up with interceptions to terminate the Hawks’ next two drives. The latter came with 18 seconds left in the third and led to Wieczorek’s first score after West again converted two third downs and a fourth down.
Erdely underthrew Wieczorek a bit on fourth-and-17, but Wieczorek’s diving catch in front of Hillgrove’s safeties preceded his 10-yard run around left end a play later. That gave West a 33-21 lead with 7:58 to go.
The Wolverines caught a huge break while leading by five late in the third after fumbling on a double reverse. Hillgrove linebacker Placid Ajoku scooped up the ball and sped toward the end zone, but the play was called back on what appeared to be an inadvertent whistle. The officials first placed the ball 10 yards behind the original line of scrimmage, then moved it back to midfield, where the drive had started.
West was forced to punt, but Belue snagged a pass that bounced off receiver Jojo Marshall’s chest.
Hawks coach Phillip Ironside replaced his son at quarterback with Troy Thompson early in the fourth quarter, but Thompson threw four straight incompletions, including a third-down tip by a rushing Camara and a near interception by cornerback Conner Moore on fourth down.
Wieczorek capitalized, blazing 46 yards around left end on the next play from scrimmage to put West on top 40-21 with 5:38 left.
Drake scored on a 7-yard screen pass with 3:58 to go. Lance Belue smothered the ensuing onside kick, and the many West faithful that made the trip to Powder Springs started celebrating.