The ball hardly ever seemed to bounce Forsyth Central's way Friday night.
Even in a literal sense.
Trailing Habersham Central by seven points with just over two minutes remaining, Forsyth Central defensive lineman Luke Sacchetti brought QB Carson Parker to the turf on third down to force a punt.
Forsyth Central's defense had risen to the task, but the punt took a fortuitous bounce for Habersham Central and rolled all the way to the Bulldogs' 8-yard line.
Suddenly, if the Bulldogs wanted to force overtime, they would have to drive 92 yards in just 128 seconds.
Forsyth Central QB Brady Smith was up to the task, quickly connecting with wide receiver Cam Yeager on a couple of out routes — once on an 11-yard completion and again on a 7-yard strike.
Then following a series of incompletions, and after a fourth-down interception that was called back because of a roughing the passer penalty gave the Bulldogs new life, Smith uncorked a deep pass for Yeager. The senior caught the ball while streaking up the middle of the field and raced 64 yards to the end zone to tie the game.
But the jubilation was short-lived, as the Bulldogs were penalized for holding on the play. Four plays later, Smith was sacked on fourth-and-15, and Forsyth Central's furious comeback attempt fell short, 28-21.
"I'm proud of our guys," Forsyth Central head coach David Rooney said. "I wanted to see us in a close game. The three games we had prior weren't; one was so much in our favor and the others were so much in our opponent's. I wanted to see how we were going to respond down 14 at halftime, and I'm proud of the way our kids responded coming out in the second half."
Forsyth Central scored the majority of its points in a flurry.
Braden Dover scooped up a fumble after a pair of Habersham Central players collided in the backfield, then Jayce Todaro ran in a 16-yard TD to give the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter.
Forsyth Central scored on its very next play on offense when Justin Taylor ripped off a 79-yard TD run to make it 14-7.
However, the Bulldogs' early edge in the turnover margin didn't last long, as Forsyth Central lost three fumbles, threw an interception and allowed a punt to be blocked.
After Parker evened the game at 14-14 with a 5-yard TD run, Chase Colbert picked off Smith and carried the ball all the way down to Forsyth Central's 1-yard line.
The Raiders needed just one play to turn the interception into points, scoring on a 1-yard TD run to take the lead.
Tanden LaPrade recovered a fumble on Forsyth Central's next offensive series, and Parker hooked up with Zeke Whittington to double the lead.
Forsyth Central's most costly turnover came early in the fourth quarter after Smith had engineered a 17-play drive, leading the Bulldogs to within 4 yards of a one-possession game.
Taylor took the handoff from Smith and had just one defender to beat, but Carter Barrett put his helmet on the ball, which sprang from Taylor's arms and into Slade Dover's arms for the touchback.
"Turnovers definitely make a difference in any game," Rooney said. "We gave up one in the second half there going into the end zone. That one hurt, because that would have put us within seven a lot earlier than where we were."
Forsyth Central's defense — a unit that surrendered just 70 total yards in the second half — forced a quick three-and-out, allowing the Bulldogs to regroup on offense and piece together a scoring drive.
Smith found Yeager four times for 83 yards on the drive, including a perfect pass and catch on a 33-yard go route to make the score 28-21 with 4:52 left to play.
"That had to be one of Cam's best games, and even one of Brady Smith's best games throwing the ball," Rooney said. "Both of them seem to be doing better hooking up each game. They're going to get us those opportunities, and we'll take it. We took it tonight and made the most of it."
Habersham Central appeared primed to take possession and run out the clock, using a 28-yard run by Parker to cross midfield, but the Bulldogs' defense dropped the QB behind the line of scrimmage twice, including on third-and-6 when Sacchetti's sack forced the punt.
After Smith's deep TD pass to Yeager was called back, a sack on first down by Keller Green put the Bulldogs offense in a hole, then another by Green on fourth down extinguished any hope of a comeback and handed Forsyth Central a heartbreaking loss.
"It's a shame that last touchdown was called back," Rooney said. "That would have been memorable."