West Forsyth needed just one opportunity to earn the school’s first varsity football win.
The Wolverines piled up 241 yards on the ground and forced three turnovers Friday night, en route to a 21-14 win against rival North Forsyth in front of a packed house in Raider Valley.
The Wolverines (1-0 overall, 0-0 Region 7-AAA) were paced by running back Ben Emert, who transferred from North (0-1 overall, 0-0 Region 7-AAAAA) to West when the school opened. Emert came back to haunt the Raiders to the tune of 157 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 26 carries.
West coach Frank Hepler said he was pleased with the victory, but added that he and his coaching staff reminded the team to keep this game in perspective.
“[Our] kids have worked extremely hard, [but] we still have a long way to go,” Hepler said.
“We’re playing in an extremely tough region with a lot of great teams, so we’ve got to improve with what we did [tonight.]
“I think we’re going to be OK ... [but] one game doesn’t make your season. That’s something we’ve expressed to [our kids] from day one in the weight room, ‘You’re not just lifting for the North game, you’re lifting for the 10 ball games we have to play in hopes that we can get an 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th game.’”
The Raiders won the coin toss and received the ball first, but were eventually forced to punt, setting up the Wolverines on their own 39-yard line.
The visitors needed just five plays to find the end zone on their first drive, highlighted by a 19-yard run from Parker Chapman (10 carries, 42 yards rushing) and a 25-yard pass from Lance Baker (5-for-9, 114 yards passing) to Ethan Shirley, and capped off by an Emert 2-yard run. The extra point by David Rooney gave West a 7-0 lead with 6:12 left in the first quarter.
“I think there was a lot of emotion that came into this game on both sides,” Hepler said. “We were tight and they were tight, but I think the athleticism showed out tonight. They’ve got a very good football team and I think we’ve got a good football team.”
North answered right away, orchestrating an 89-yard drive that ended when Tyler Slaton (13 carries, 94 yards, 1 touchdown) ran 22 yards to paydirt. Corey Reins’ kicked the point after, evening the score 7-7 with 2:42 remaining in the quarter.
Wing-T offense trickery helped put the Wolverines back in North territory on the ensuing drive, when Shirley took a reverse down the sideline and lateraled back to Baker for a 28-yard gain.
Two plays later the momentum shifted back to North, as Steven Hester jumped in front of a Lance Baker pass and carried it back 64 yards for a touchdown. The extra point by Reins put North on top 14-7 with 48.3 seconds left in the opening period.
Baker bounced back on the next drive, completing a 20-yard pass to Reece Patton and a 44-yard strike to Jason Klanac down to the Raiders’ 11. Emert eventually scored on a 1-yard run and David Rooney booted the extra point through the uprights to tie things up 14-14 with 9:28 left in the quarter.
The Wolverines almost scored again near the end of the half, but what initially appeared to be a 41-yard pass from Baker to Patten down to the 1-yard line was negated by a penalty flag.
North hopped back in the drivers’ seat in the second half, after West’s offense stalled on the opening possession.
Raiders’ quarterback Eli Chester (4-for-8, 72 yards passing) completed a 22-yard pass to Jory Walsh to advance the ball into West territory, but the drive went south when Chester lost a fumble at the West 14, near the end of a 16-yard keeper run.
Emert made North pay for the mistake, rumbling for a 19-yard gain and another for 29 yards in a series that culminated when Colton Cloud knifed into the end zone to recapture the lead for West. Rooney’s free kick gave the team a 21-14 advantage with 33.2 seconds on the clock in the third period
The Raiders pushed their way down to West’s 32 on the next drive, but Walsh came up inches short of the 1st-down marker on a 4th-down run.
But one final opportunity came for North, when West’s ensuing drive stalled on the Raiders’ 45.
The Wolverines punted the ball down to North’s 20, but a penalty forced the team to kick again. This time Hester returned the ball back to West’s 40.
But West’s David Camp responded by later jumping in front of a pass from Chester, intercepting the ball with 3:23 to play to kill the potential game-tying drive.
From there, Emert and Baker kept the ball on the ground, draining the game clock until time expired.
North coach Jared Zito said he accepted the blame for the late turnover.
“What I told my kids was, I’m not going to point the finger at them, I’m going to point the finger at me,” the coach said.
“I made an absolutely horrible call. I threw the ball down there with less than five minutes. I thought we had it open, but I know better.”
Zito also said his players were plagued by a lack of focus at times during the week, something they ultimately paid for.
“Tuesday was probably the worst practice I’ve experienced as a coach, in terms of focus,” he said. “[Our kids] made some crucial mistakes early in the week that have really cost them tonight. It’s just one of those games, we just weren’t on all cylinders.”
The coach said he felt that the lack of focus stemmed from last week’s outcome with Alpharetta.
“I think we got a case of too big for our britches,” Zito said.
“I sensed that, and we tried, as coaches, to halt that, but our kids never experienced a win like that. It was much like a game, beating a good [Class] AAAAA football team. We felt like, ‘Hey, we’re there.’”
The coach said that based off the conversation he had with his team after the game, North has an opportunity to turn the loss into a positive learning experience in the long run.
On the other side, Hepler hopes that the Wolverines just continue to buy into his philosophy.
“The kids at West ... have really come together. These kids really believe in what we’re doing and you can see, they execute the plays the way the coaches have designed them,” Hepler said.
“As long as they have that belief in what we’re doing and they go out and execute, I believe we’re going to be successful.”
West plays its first home game next Friday when Adairsville visits. Next up for North is a trip to Oakwood to face Johnson.