It’s been a while since North Forsyth came out on top of a county rivalry game, but on Friday the Raiders broke through.
North got two first-half touchdowns off big plays by the defense and special teams, and added two more in the second half to top South Forsyth 27-7 at Raider Valley.
“It’s really the first time, to be honest, that we’ve played four quarters of football against a quality opponent and I’ve told ‘em all along [that] if they’ll do that, they’ve got a chance against anybody,” Raiders’ coach Jared Zito said.
It was the first time North topped South since the Raiders’ state semifinal season in 2001, a streak of four games. In addition, it was the first time the Raiders beat any Forsyth County rival since topping Forsyth Central in 2005, a streak that had lasted five games.
Still, Zito said the intra-county aspect wasn’t the top consideration coming into the game.
“I told our guys before the game [that] the most important thing about this game was the fact that it was a region football game. I said the fact that it’s a rival and it’s South, I know that’s important, but that’s secondary for what our goals have been ... since I’ve been here and since January.”
The tone for the game seemed to be set in the first two minutes, when South (2-4 overall, 1-3 Region 7-AAAAA) ran a fake punt on a fourth-and-13 on the game’s opening possession. Brett Charron was stuffed on the carry, allowing the Raiders (3-3, 2-2) to set up on the War Eagle 17.
Two plays later, Raider quarterback Eli Chester (85 rushing yards) went 9 yards on a keeper to score, giving North a 7-0 lead with 9:58 left in the first quarter.
“By alignment it was there, but we didn’t execute, but ... obviously in retrospect I shouldn’t have done it,” South coach Wendell Early said of the trick play attempt.
“But that’s just what we had in mind and that’s what I did, and [it was a] bad call. It put us in a hole, and you know, we climbed out of it, and then we just couldn’t keep going.”
South got on the board on the first play of the second quarter, wrapping up a 61-yard drive when Sean Malone (108 receiving yards on six catches) hauled in a 13-yard touchdown catch from Nick Belyew (198 total yards), tying the game.
It looked like South might head into halftime with a three-point lead as the Eagles lined up for a 42-yard field goal attempt in the closing seconds of the half. Instead, the pendulum took a big swing in North’s direction, as Hunter Alexander’s kick was blocked and Tyler Riddle scooped up the ball, running about 70 yards for a score to put the Raiders up 14-7 with just four seconds left in the half.
Zito said it was the first time a big, unexpected break had gone North’s way since he took over as head coach last season.
Early said the play sapped a lot of morale for South, but noted that the game was far from over at that point.
“We were still in the game. It’s 14-7,” South’s coach said.
“You know, I gotta give them credit. Their kids played hard. Their kids are strong up front and they had a great plan. They had a bunch of ‘em in there to stop the run, and they dared us to throw it, and we couldn’t convert on it.”
After basically relying on the defense in the first half, North’s offense started cracking after intermission with a pair of lengthy touchdown drives.
Tyler Slaton (86 rushing yards on 18 carries) ran for three yards to score with 1:46 left in the third, wrapping up a 63-yard drive. That touchdown was set up by a 40-yard run from Chester on fourth-and-six to put the Raiders at the South 3.
With 5:50 left in the game, Slaton fought through the defensive line and ran for 23 yards to score his second touchdown, the culmination of a 73-yard series. Slaton carried the ball on a two-point conversion attempt after that play, but couldn’t convert, leaving things 27-7.
Zito said he was proud of the effort all around from his team.
“I think everybody kind of took their turn being a leader in this game,” Zito said. “We really played on all three facets. The win was because the offense, the defense and the special teams all did their part and that’s how we have to win here.”
South’s offense looked good at times, but the Eagles consistently were unable to convert big plays. South turned the ball over on downs four times. Combined with the blocked field goal returned for a touchdown, fourth down wasn’t kind to the War Eagles.
“We had to try to take what we could get, we had to try to win,” Early said. “It was a struggle all night long. They did a great job. Their kids played really hard. ... They were big and strong up front, and they just kind of man-handled us.”
Corey Reins and Steven Hester both hauled in interceptions, highlights of a solid defensive effort for North.
North heads to Norcross on Friday to meet the always-tough Blue Devils. South will try to bounce back Friday when Duluth comes to town.