SUWANEE — It can be tough to win on the road — even when the home team has a bad night.
Peachtree Ridge certainly made South Forsyth feel at home in the first quarter Friday night in Suwanee, spotting South a double-digit lead through various miscues before coming alive in the second quarter and playing like a playoff-caliber team, shutting out the War Eagles in the second half en route to a 22-16 victory.
The Lions were charitable from the first play of the game, when quarterback Nick Lombardo fumbled a handoff and the War Eagles recovered. Peachtree Ridge turned the ball over on four straight possessions to start the game — three fumbles and an interception — and when Nick Ureda scooped up the last fumble and returned it 19 yards for a touchdown with one minute left in the quarter, South had a 16-0 lead in front of a stunned homecoming crowd.
“We’re young, so we’re emotional,” head coach Wendell Early said. “We fought hard to make some things happen, and there’s no doubt that getting some breaks early helped give us momentum.”
Salem Collins recovered the other two fumbles, both of which set up scores. Hunter Alexander hit a 37-yard field goal, while Brett Charron scored on a one-yard run.
But all the Lions seemed to need was a change of end zones to snap out of their funk. On the first play of the second quarter, Ronnie Smith broke off a 53-yard touchdown run to put the Lions on the board. After forcing a punt on the next South possession, Brandon Stanley burst through the left side of the line and sprinted 58 yards to cut the lead to two points.
What followed was a bizarre drive that featured errors by both teams. South started at its 20, nearly took a safety, and ended up covering nearly the entire field and chewing up the nine minutes left in the half.
But while a drive that long implies a strong rushing game, it had more to do with the Lion defense. While the Lions forced eight negative-yardage plays on the drive, they also committed three personal fouls — one on a field goal attempt that missed — and a pass interference penalty. The War Eagles took two delay-of-games and completed a 34-yard bomb.
Just when things looked to be settled down just before the half, the Lions blocked a field goal and nearly returned it after the clock expired.
The drive encapsulated the way the night went for South’s sophomore quarterback, Nick Belyew. He was running for his life whenever he dropped back — the Lions sacked him eight times — but also completed one of four passes for more than 15 yards.
Both teams played with much more focus in the second half, but the execution for the War Eagles couldn’t match the heart.
“They played so hard, and they played over their heads,” said Early of his players. “I’m very proud of our kids.”
The Lions turned the tables early in the second half. Belyew lost a fumble on the second play when he was hit from his blind side by a blitzer and Peachtree Ridge recovered at the South 10. Four plays later, Stanley breezed in from a yard out to give the Lions the lead for good.
South had its chances to get the lead back, moving 79 yards to the Lions doorstep late in the third. But Charron was stuffed on running plays on third and fourth down to turn the ball over.
A big stand from the defense on 4th-and-6 got the War Eagles the ball with 3:16 left in the game and 61 yards to go for a winning touchdown. But after Charron gained 17 yards on the first play, the Eagles offense couldnt get another first down.
South (2-4 Region 7-AAAAA, 3-5 overall) will return to Gwinnett County to take on Collins Hill on Friday.