SUWANEE — Nick Belyew had one of the best games of his young career Friday night against playoff-bound Collins Hill, making play after play to try to author a major upset.
But the sophomore quarterback got upstaged in the final minutes of the game. Collins Hill senior quarterback Michael Box led his team back from a late deficit, then South’s offense had to watch from the sideline as a 32-yard field goal barely cleared the crossbar and the clock hit zero almost simultaneously, giving the homestanding Eagles a 31-28 win.
Belyew and the War Eagles had the ball at their own 37 with 4:13 remaining in a tie ballgame, and when Belyew somehow got the ball into the hands of Sean Malone on a third-and-ten for a 15-yard first down in Collins Hill territory, it certainly looked like destiny was ready to smile on the War Eagles.
But three straight incompletions from there forced a punt, then Box went to work. The University of Connecticut-bound quarterback had already erased South’s 28-21 lead with a quick two-pass drive, and now had the ball at his own 20 with 3:05 to go.
Despite having an off night to that point and having the ball moved back to his own 7 on a holding penalty on the first play, Box hit on six of his nine attempts -- three on third down -- to move Collins Hill deep in South territory.
On the final completion, an unnecessary roughness penalty was assessed at the end of the play, tacking on 12 yards to the South 12 and setting up the game-winning field goal.
“I think our kids played one heck of a game,” said head coach Wendell Early. “We took a playoff team right to the brink and our kids played their hearts out. A break here or there and we win the game.”
Belyew not only had a solid night statistically (10-of-24 passing for 155 yards and a score, 15-for-49 rushing with a two-yard touchdown), he continually made plays at key junctures.
Multiple times he kept drives alive with his feet or with clutch throws on third or even fourth down.
His fourth-and-six dart to David Knorr in the fourth quarter turned into a 29-yard touchdown when Knorr bounced off two tacklers and scampered into the end zone to put South up 28-21 with 8:12 left in the game.
But even more importantly, he took care of the ball – South did not turn the ball over all night – and Early said he was impressed by the way he avoided the negative plays that plagued the offense last week against Peachtree Ridge.
Early also said the offensive line came through in a big way to give him time to throw.
“He’s starting to feel more comfortable in what we’re doing,” Early said of Belyew. “Our kids are starting to feel it offensively.”
The defense made Collins Hill uncomfortable for most of the night, but two killer plays kept Collins Hill in the game.
Speedy running back Charles Perkins accounted for a pair of one-play drives, exploiting holes and leaving defenders in the dust on touchdown runs of 80 and 61 yards.
Those plays made up for Box’s struggles. Going into the fourth quarter, Box was 4-for-11 against the South secondary, and Salem Collins picked him off and ran 65 yards to the end zone just before the first half ended.
Collins Hill opened the game up with a 15-play, 93-yard drive that ended with a one-yard touchdown by Perkins on fourth-and-goal. South responded by going 80 yards on 14 plays, capped off by Belyew’s touchdown run.
Collins Hill went up on the first of Perkins’ long runs midway through the second, but Collins’ pick-six tied things up going into the locker room. Perkins ripped off his third touchdown run with 3:53 left in the third, but south was able to answer with a drive that ended in a three-yard touchdown run by Brett Charron.