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Football: Bulldogs bully Spartans
Central gets first win of season in Region 7A-AAAAA opener
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Forsyth Central running back C.J. Cochran pushes away from North Springs linebacker Lamont Bullock on Friday in Atlanta. - photo by Jared Putnam

ATLANTA — Forsyth Central didn’t encounter any surprises Friday night. When facing a team that hasn’t won a game in almost three years, that’s a good thing.

The Bulldogs jumped out to a 23-0 lead after their first three possessions and cruised to their first victory of the season in a 40-6 win over North Springs at the Spartans’ field.

"The first [win] is nice [no matter] when you get it," Central coach Chris Bennett said.

"And it is important because it’s in our subregion and it’s nice to be 1-0 in the subregion. Our kids needed that and our coaching staff needed that, and they did a phenomenal job all the way around tonight."

Junior quarterback Michael Branigan completed all four of his passes for 96 yards, including two long touchdown strikes to junior wide receiver Jeremiah Jones (3 receptions, 93 yards).

But Central (1-4, 1-0 Region 7A-AAAAA) did the majority of its damage on the ground, piling up 347 rushing yards behind juniors Shay Hollis (19 carries, 155 rushing yards, 2 TDs), Jake Gorczyca (15 carries, 95 rushing yards, TD) and C.J. Cochran (10 carries, 61 rushing yards), who all averaged at least six yards per carry.

Hollis got the Bulldogs on the scored board at the 8:35 mark in the first quarter when he capped an eight-play, 89-yard drive with a 24-yard touchdown run. Anel Ramic’s extra point extended the lead to 7-0.

The Bulldogs forced a North Springs (0-5, 0-1) punt on the ensuing possession and got the ball back at their own 45.

Hollis broke a 27-yard run down to the Spartans’ 28-yard line on his first carry of the series, then took the ball another 12 yards to the 16 on his second run. He later finished off the drive with a four-yard touchdown run, and the Bulldogs converted a two-point conversion to extend the lead to 15-0.

"I just have to thank my O-line ... they blocked their hearts out," Hollis said. "That’s who [the credit] goes to."

North Springs advanced all the way to the Central 18-yard line on the next possession but was stopped on a fourth-and-3.

Gorczyca picked up a 17-yard gain during Central’s next drive, which helped set up a 38-yard touchdown pass from Branigan to Jones. The Bulldogs successfully converted another two-point conversion to pull ahead 23-0 with 5:49 left in the second quarter.

"That really helped us a bunch," Bennett said of the Bulldogs’ early points. "It takes some of the pressure off. I thought our offensive line pretty much dominated the line of scrimmage tonight, and when you can do that you’ve got a chance."

The only thing that stopped Central in the first half was the clock. The Bulldogs started their fourth possession pinned deep in their own territory with only 54.9 seconds remaining in the second period and could not get in field goal range before halftime.

Nasym Nathaniel provided the Spartans’ only points of the night just seconds into the third quarter when he fielded a kickoff at his own 4-yard line, lured Central’s entire special teams unit toward the right sideline, then bounced left and raced down the opposing sideline for a 96-yard touchdown.

That play was the only real highlight for the Spartans, who accumulated just 116 yards of offense.

Central increased the lead to 26-6 on a field goal by Ramic midway through the period and tacked on two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Branigan hit Jones with a 28-yard touchdown pass down the right side with 10:03 remaining, and Gorczyca put the icing on the victory with a one-yard plunge into the end zone with 54.1 seconds remaining.

The loss was North Springs’ 28th straight, dating back to the 2009 season.

The Bulldogs will have a chance to improve to 2-0 in the subregion when first-year program Cambridge (0-5, 0-1) comes to the Central campus on Friday.

"We started a clean slate tonight playing people in our region," Hollis said. "I’m just thankful that we’re 1-0 [in the subregion] now, so lets keep it rolling."