A year ago, Forsyth Central would’ve closed up shop and called it a night after giving up a long touchdown pass on its first series and failing to recover a short kickoff in the first quarter.
It would’ve been easy to do that again on Friday night at a frigid and gusty Bulldog Stadium, with Cambridge quarterback Brian Moore doing his best Johnny Manziel impression.
No, Central hung tough and drew within seven points of the Bears in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t enough. Cambridge held off the Bulldogs’ late rally and won, 35-21, to earn a spot in a Region 7-AAAAA play-in game on Nov. 7 and eliminate Central from state playoff contention.
"Last year, we would’ve lain down and it would’ve been something like 50-7," second-year Forsyth Central head coach Shane Williamson said. "We kept fighting, and we’re still going in to week 10 with a winning record. We have a chance to finish with six wins and send these seniors out as winners."
If not for two squib kickoffs that Cambridge (7-2 overall, 4-2 Region 7-AAAAA, Div. B) recovered, who knows—maybe Central (5-4, 3-3) is within striking distance in the final period. Williamson said Central had not seen the Bears kick the ball high and short, and not to a deep return man, on film. That said, Central had chances to fall on top of the ball each time.
"We felt like we could take advantage of some of their alignments on kick returns," Cambridge head coach Craig Bennett said. "We got lucky because they misplayed the ball a few times, but that’s how it goes."
Central’s first touchdown drive was proof of what could have been had the Bulldogs recovered the Bears’ short kickoffs. The Bulldogs took over possession at their own 46, and on second-and-20, Sabrian Howard (10 carries, 120 yards) took off down the right sideline for a 55-yard gain. On third-and-goal, Noah Aguirre took a reverse handoff and strolled in for a 10-yard touchdown.
Cambridge jumped back in front on a 3-yard Brock Nielsen run and Craig Carter recovered the ensuing kickoff at the Central 41, but the Bulldogs held firm. Pierce Nufer sacked Moore (18-for-24, 286 yards, two touchdowns; 22 carries, 84 yards, two touchdowns) for a 9-yard loss on first down. One play later, Moore threw a backwards pass to receiver Hunter Smith (four catches, 45 yards), and Aguirre and Cedrick Dorsey recovered just in bounds.
When Williamson spoke of missed opportunities, the Bulldogs’ drive after Moore’s turnover comes to mind. Central drove inside the Cambridge 20, but the possession stalled when Howard was stopped for no gain on first down, Aubrey Blackman threw incomplete and Shaun Diebel (17 carries, 53 yards) lost 1 yard on third-and-10. Devin Wozniak’s 37-yard field goal attempt was short.
"We lost the special teams battle early in the game and were not able to come up and field some of those short kickoffs," Williamson said. "Any time you get a short field and don’t score, or you give that offense another series of down, you’re risking giving up a ton of points."
Moore led the Bears on a 10-play, 80-yard drive that ate up nearly five and a half minutes just before halftime. The senior ran for 36 yards and threw for 31 more and scrambled right to score from 11 yards out and put Cambridge up 21-7. With his 286-yard performance, Moore topped 2,000 passing yards (2,020) on the season.
"[Moore] is so good at extending plays," Bennett said. "He drives us crazy sometimes, running around like that. He had some mistakes tonight but he gave a heck of an effort and he’s a heck of a leader, which is why we like him so much."
Again—this is going to surprise you—Cambridge kicked short as the wind swirled, and Brock Nielsen recovered at the Central 42. The Bulldog defense held firm, despite John Hurst’s (four catches, 55 yards) 28-yard catch. Sebastian Legarra broke up Moore’s third-down pass and Clayton Hammer missed his 32-yard field goal attempt wide left.
Cambridge’s JD White (seven catches, 151 yards, two touchdowns) was a handful for Central all night. The junior wide receiver hauled in an 81-yard touchdown from Moore for the Bears’ first touchdown, then took a swing pass 22 yards, running over a Central defensive back, for what would be the deciding touchdown early in the third quarter.
Central quarterback Trey Abercrombie scored two second-half touchdowns, each on sneaks from the 1-yard line. Howard was instrumental in the Bulldogs’ scoring drives before exiting with an undisclosed injury early in the fourth quarter. Central already was without Ryan Hintz (arm) and Patrick Little (shoulder surgery) and starting offensive lineman Hunter Lamm left briefly with a left leg injury.
Craig Bennett played football for Central and his brother, Chris, Cambridge’s offensive coordinator, was the Bulldogs’ head coach before Williamson took over prior to the 2013 season.
"It’s been so long ago I kind of forgot what this place was like," Craig Bennett said. "It’s a special place to [Chris and me] because we grew up here. It’s good to come back but you’ve got to set those mixed emotions aside."
Cambridge will face Creekview, the No. 2 seed from Region 7-AAAAA, Div. A next Friday for a spot in the state playoffs.
Central, meanwhile, closes out its 2014 season with a region crossover game at the C-House.
"We’re going in to week 10 with a winning record, which is huge, huge progress over last year," Williamson said. "We have a chance to finish with a winning season next Friday, so these seniors can go out as winners."