It took everything West Forsyth had to avoid becoming Creekview’s first victim Friday night.
The Wolverines came from behind twice, took advantage of six turnovers and snared an onside kick in the final minute to slide past the luckless Grizzlies at home, 27-24.
“In this part of our schedule, the first four games, I thought this would be the toughest team that we would face and they did, they lived up to the billing,” West coach Frank Hepler said of the Grizzlies, a crossover opponent in Region 7-AAA.
Creekview (0-3) has now lost all three of its games by a total of six points. This is the Grizzlies’ first season playing a region schedule, after two years of non-league play.
Up 27-17 with the ball and two minutes to play, West (4-0) appeared to have a 10-point win in hand, but Creekview held the Wolverines to a three-and-out, using timeouts to conserve the clock, and got the ball back at the West 42 with 1:09 left.
The Grizzlies managed to score three plays later, with a 22-yard touchdown pass from Collins Wold to Dillon Mulkey making it 27-24 with 26 ticks left in the game.
The Grizzlies initially appeared to recover the ensuing onside kick, but the play had been blown dead just before toe met leather, and West recovered the do-over attempt, allowing quarterback Lance Baker (145 passing yards) to take a knee and allowing his team to take a sigh of relief.
Hepler said the tight game tested his Wolverines in every facet of play, providing a better learning experience than blowout wins over Adairsville and Pickens earlier this month.
West held a 13-10 halftime lead but fell behind in the third quarter, as Creekview started the second half on its own 23 and used up nearly half of the quarter on a methodical 14-play drive that ended with a one-yard touchdown run from Michael Ay to give the visitors a 17-13 lead.
From there, it was up to bruising running back Ben Emert and a strong dose of Wolverine defense to dig West out of the hole, and both sides delivered.
West’s comeback began after a big interception by Cody Pilcher at the West 5, a big defensive stop that set up the Wolverines deep in their own territory with 22 seconds left in the third quarter.
A 95-play scoring drive ensued, with most of the yardage coming on a 74-yard pass from Baker to Andy Cameron (95 yards on two catches), with Cameron hauling in the ball around midfield and hoofing it down to the 18.
Emert muscled through the defensive line two plays later and ran 13 yards for a touchdown, putting West on top 20-17 with 11:02 left in the game.
Cameron recovered a fumble on the next Creekview possession, giving West the ball at the Grizzlies’ 42.
Emert then carried the rock seven times on a nine-play drive, capping it off with a 12-yard touchdown run with 4:43 to play, his third score of the game.
Emert picked up 109 yards on 30 carries, with the vast majority of that output coming after halftime.
West’s second-half offensive strategy mostly consisted of handing it to Emert, aiming him straight at the Grizzlies’ defensive front and grinding out enough yards to keep the chains moving.
“Just keep chugging, punishing the tackler, but you know, can’t do it without the O-Line. They had a good push up front for me,” Emert said of his mindset during carries.
At 27-17, the teams traded turnovers on the next three possessions, with a Rusty Juneau interception giving way to a fumble by Emert, which gave way to a turnover on downs on a golden scoring opportunity for Creekview. The Grizzlies had a fourth-and-one at the West 6, but couldn’t convert, giving the ball back with 2:05 left.
That failure appeared to seal Creekview’s fate before the visitors climbed back in with a stout defensive stand and a late touchdown.
“[Creekview’s] just a great team and I told our guys I’m really proud of ‘em,” Hepler said.
“That shows the makeup of a team. When you can come back, take a lead and keep a lead, that’s a sign of a good team, but we’ve still got a long way to go.”
The Wolverines fell into a 10-point hole early on, when the Grizzlies scored on their first two possessions.
Following a quick three-and-out, a West punt set up Creekview in favorable position, just inside Wolverine territory on the 45.
An eight-play drive put the Grizzlies in the end zone just over two minutes into the game, with Josh Reyes running three yards for the score.
The Creekview defense recovered a fumble on the next possession, setting up the offense at the West 46.
The Grizzlies eventually made it down to the 4, thanks largely to a 43-yard pass from Wold to Jake Barclay, setting up a 21-yard field goal from Ethan Johnson to make it 10-0 with 49 seconds left in the first quarter.
West responded with an 80-yard scoring drive to get on the board with 11 minutes left in the half.
The scoring play required a bit of improvisation, with Emert appearing wrapped up in the backfield but managing to squirt the ball out to Baker, who ran 55 yards for the touchdown.
“I wasn’t really even thinking. It’s just one of those things that just happens like that,” Emert said of the play.
“I was chugging for yardage. I just saw him out of the corner of my eye and flipped it.”
Andrew Warneke recovered a fumble for West on the next series, and the Wolverines went 85 yards for a touchdown. A Baker pass was deflected by a Creekview defender into Ethan Shirley’s hands for a 20-yard completion on the series, and Emert ran two yards for the score two plays later. A blocked extra point led to West’s 13-10 advantage at intermission.
West now heads into its Subregion B schedule unbeaten, starting with East Hall in Rabbittown on Friday.
“All the Hall County teams are excellent teams and they’ve got great athletes, and we’ve got to be ready to go against these guys,” Hepler said.