South Forsyth head coach Wendell Early had hoped the War Eagles could develop more offensive weapons to complement the skills of senior star Brian Adams.
And in the early parts of Friday night’s Region 7-AAAAA opener at home against North Gwinnett, it looked like the University of Kentucky-bound Adams might be able to carry the War Eagles to an upset of the No. 6 Bulldogs.
But North Gwinnett solved Adams, and another highly-touted quarterback, the Bulldogs’ Michael Tamburo, solved the South defense en route to a 35-0 win.
“Right now, he’s [Adams] about all we’ve got offensively,” Early said. “We’re not as good as they are. We need to work and get a lot better.”
Early’s troops looked like they might be gaining the upper hand early, as North Gwinnett’s opening drive ended deep in War Eagle territory when Tamburo was stripped of the ball at the end of a run and Salem Collins recovered the ball at his team’s 23. South
Forsyth drove the ball back to near midfield but was forced to punt. The defense kept the momentum rolling, driving the Bulldogs backward as they forced a three-and-out.
Adams followed by single-handedly moving the offense into field goal range from the War Eagle 49, picking up a first down with two scrambles then buying enough time with his legs to find Marcell Helligar for a 15-yard completion to the 16-yard-line.
But with the chance to grab an early lead and throw an upset scare into the Bulldogs, things came unglued. Adams, who had rushed for 47 yards on seven carries in the first two drives and hit two of his first three passes, tossed a pair of incompletions after a short run by Brett Charron, setting up a fourth-and-seven.
The field goal unit came on to potentially give South Forsyth the lead, but matters got even worse. The snap was too high for anyone to even knock down, and took a bad bounce for the War Eagles toward midfield. Kicker Hunter Alexander was able to track it down, but was hit and fumbled before he could throw the ball away. Zach Humphrey recovered at the Bulldog 43, and momentum had returned to the visiting sideline.
From then on, Tamburo went to work. He got North Gwinnett onto the board early in the second quarter with a 24-yard scoring pass to Kenny Barnes.
The War Eagles were held to three-and-outs on two ensuing possessions, as North Gwinnett was able to shut down the scrambling lanes that Adams had exploited early on. Absent the scrambles from the quarterback, South Forsyth couldn’t get downfield yardage with the passing game, nor could they fool the defense with screen passes to the wide receivers.
“We couldn’t run the ball or pass protect against their three-man front,” Early said. “When you’re trying to get guys open with four against eight, it’s not going to work.”
Tamburo capped a drive with a one-yard touchdown plunge at the 2:46 mark of the quarter, and followed a quick stop on defense by making two plays – a nine-yard scramble and a 38-yard pass to Cordero Dixon – to the end zone to take a 21-0 lead at halftime.
Early said the bad snap made a big difference in momentum, but that there were other factors at work as North Gwinnett gained control of the game.
“I think the reality set in that they’re better than us,” he said.
The reality got more and more apparent as the night went on. Adams’ frustrations continued on the first play of the second half when Humphrey picked off his pass and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown and a 28-0 lead.
South Forsyth had the ball deep in Bulldog territory twice in the third quarter, but couldn’t capitalize on good field position and turned the ball over on downs twice (once after having first-and-goal on the 3). North Gwinnett responded to the second turnover with a bruising 10-play, 97-yard drive for the final touchdown of the night, an eight yard rumble by Raahmil Brantley.
Tamburo finished an efficient 9-of-18 for 129 yards and two touchdowns passing (he was also picked off once, by Eric Sundby).
North Gwinnett’s running attack, spearheaded by Tyler Jarry (8 carries, 108 yards) went for 195 yards on 29 carries.
Adams finished 6-for-21 passing for 47 yards, spending the fourth quarter alternating between wide receiver and the bench. He rushed for 58 yards on 18 carries, a net of one yard in the second and third quarters.
South Forsyth (1-2, 0-1) travels to Chattahoochee next week for another region game.