SUWANEE — It's become a familiar refrain for North Forsyth this season: A solid effort out of the gate against a region power, followed by an inability to seal the deal down the stretch.
The Raiders jumped out to a 14-7 lead Friday at seventh-ranked North Gwinnett and went into the half only down 27-20.
The Bulldogs' defense owned the final two quarters, though, as North Gwinnett earned a 41-20 win on a drizzly homecoming night.
North Forsyth head coach Jared Zito showed some frustration with the recurring theme, which also showed up in the Raiders' losses to Peachtree Ridge, Collins Hill and Norcross earlier in the year.
"How many times this year have we went toe-to-toe with some Region [7-AAAAA] monsters and we just, for one reason or another, haven't put four quarters together, and our guys have got to figure that out. We have got to do that if we're going to win football games in this region," Zito said.
"We've proved to everybody, including ourselves, that we can compete, and that was a big goal of ours. But now our job is to take it to the next level. Competing is fun for a while, but then you really want to see the wins come across."
North Forsyth (3-5 overall, 2-4 Region 7-AAAAA) scored on its first two possessions, with Tyler Slaton (135 rushing yards) busting loose for a 43-yard touchdown run on the game's opening possession, and Jordan Totten hauling in a six-yard catch in the corner of the end zone on the Raiders' next series, giving the visitors a 14-7 lead with 2:51 left in the first quarter.
North Gwinnett (7-1, 6-0) responded on each of its first two possessions, though. Michael Tamburo (331 total yards) hit CJ Uzoman for a 36-yard touchdown on the Bulldogs' first series, while Tyler Jarry (109 total yards) wrapped up a 70-yard drive with a two-yard run to tie the game at 14-all early in the second quarter.
Jarry ran for two touchdowns and caught two more for North Gwinnett. Tamburo was also involved in three touchdowns, with three scoring passes and a long touchdown run.
The Bulldogs took their first lead with about eight minutes left in the first half on a 25-yard touchdown catch from Jarry on third-and-19.
North Forsyth appeared set to tie the game heading into the half, after Corey Reins blocked a punt to set up the Raiders on the Bulldog 19. Eli Chester gutted out a four-yard touchdown run with 58 seconds left in the half, but Reins' extra point was blocked to keep the Bulldogs up 21-20.
North Gwinnett then managed to go 72 yards in under a minute for another score. Tamburo made a big 32-yard run down to the Raider 26, getting out of bounds with 34 ticks left. An unsportmanlike conduct penalty assessed against the Raiders moved North Gwinnett down to the 13, and Jarry caught a touchdown on the next play. The Bulldogs couldn't complete a two-point conversion, leaving things 27-20 at halftime.
North Forsyth wouldn't score again on the night, as all five second-half possessions for the Raiders ended in punts. Four of them were three-and-out series.
Zito said his offense looked like it was on slow motion after halftime, and credited North Gwinnett's defense for its second-half play.
"We played really well on offense the first half and not so well on defense, and then we kind of flipped the whole process. Played pretty well on defense in the second half, and didn't play so hot on offense, and no matter who you play, you've gotta play on both sides," the coach said.
North Forsyth's defense managed to force two punts and a turnover on downs in the second half, but the Bulldogs found the end zone twice after intermission, with Tamburo running 55 yards on a second down to score with 1:06 left in the third, and Jarry icing things with a 13-yard run up the gut for a score with 7:13 left in the game.
Things might have turned out closer had the Raiders caught a break or two on defense, since North Gwinnett fumbled the ball three times in the first half. The Bulldogs jumped on all three loose balls.
Zito said the wet ball combined with some defensive pressure from the Raiders helped create those chances.
"We've got to find a way to recover some of those. Part of that's luck, good teams are lucky, but part of it's also making your own luck and you've got to get on those. Those are three opportunities for turnovers and we didn't capitalize on 'em," Zito said.
North Forsyth still has a chance to finish the season with a .500 record. The Raiders will host Chattahoochee on Halloween night, and finish up the season at Northview in two weeks.