Forsyth Central quarterback Dustin Canon didn't have to do a lot with his arm Friday night.
The senior continually delivered with key plays in every other aspect of the game, propelling his Bulldogs over the Lithonia Bulldogs 28-14 in the Region 6-AAAA opener, Central's first home game of the year.
Canon got help carrying the offense from a quartet of running backs — Central finished with a total of 329 yards rushing on 49 carries — but in clutch situations, the ball was in his hands.
With Central (1-1 overall, 1-0 Region 6-AAAA) clinging to a 28-14 lead after Lithonia scored early in the fourth quarter, the homestanding Bulldogs needed a drive to stop momentum from shifting to the opposite sideline.
After Taylor Bradford was stuffed on the first play, Canon rolled out right, couldn’t find a receiver and opted to scramble, picking up 11 yards and a huge first down. A late-hit personal foul tacked 15 yards onto the play, moving the Bulldogs from their own 15 to their own 41 and setting them up for a clock-killing drive.
“He did a little bit of everything for us tonight,” Central coach Chris Bennett said.
Canon got his Bulldogs rolling early as well. After their first drive ended in a punt, he carried the ball on option plays for two consecutive first-down runs on the next possession. That galvanized the crowd and his teammates alike, and Central continued to march, ending the drive on a one-yard touchdown plunge by Canon to open the scoring.
Lithonia quickly tied things up with a 59-yard touchdown pass from Julian Bellinger to Korenski Jones, but Canon wasted no time getting back the lead, taking the ensuing kickoff 83 yards for his second trip to the end zone on the night and putting the Dawgs up for good.
“High school football is such a game of momentum,” Bennett said. “When you get something big like that, you’re really grateful.”
The only time Central seemed prepared to give momentum back was late in the second quarter. Up 22-7 after Canon scored on another one-yard plunge, Central had driven from their own 18 to the Lithonia 17, gaining large chunks of yardage on the ground. But just as a touchdown and a 20-point advantage seemed inevitable for the home team,
Lithonia forced and recovered a fumble inside the 10-yard line.
“That was definitely a mistake that could have hurt us,” Bennett said. “But the kids responded well at halftime. We had had a good first half and that gave us confidence, and confidence sometimes overrides momentum changes.”
The defense did its part to hold back the tide. After the fumble, a Lithonia hail Mary attempt was intercepted by Canon from his defensive back position, ending the half. The Dawgs then made a stand on fourth down during
Lithonia’s second-half-opening possession, forcing the turnover. Michael Gravitt capped the ensuing drive with a four-yard touchdown run to extend the lead to 28-7.
Canon was the game’s leading rusher, putting the icing on the cake with a 54-yard run on a quarterback sweep in the waning minutes. He finished with 116 yards on 13 carries and two touchdowns. Bradford banged his way to 71 yards on 14 totes, and Summerlin chipped in 73 yards on nine carries.
The defense in the trenches was solid as well, with Lithonia gaining 84 yards on 22 carries before changing quarterbacks and largely abandoning the running game in the second half. Bennett said that practicing against themselves for the past week — Lithonia runs a similar veer-option offense to Central — helped get his Dawgs ready to control the line of scrimmage.
The only thing to dampen home spirits as the game wound down was the condition of senior John Taylor, who was carried off the field on a stretcher after sustaining a neck injury in the fourth quarter. However, Taylor was conscious and able to wave to the crowd as he left the field.
Central travels Saturday to perennial region power Southwest DeKalb.