By Caleb Byrd
For the Forsyth County News
Defense may win championships, but special teams won the game Friday night for the Forsyth Central Bulldogs as they defeated the North Forsyth Raiders 28-27 in exciting fashion for their first Region 6-7A win.
Senior Noah Chol returned a late third-quarter kickoff for an 89-yard touchdown, and after a touchdown pass from North Forsyth quarterback Brady Meitz threatened to tie the game up with less than a minute left, Central’s defense blocked the PAT.
The Raiders attempted an onside kick, but the Bulldogs’ hands team did their job, falling on the ball and sealing the win at home against North.
“It's a great team victory,” Central head coach Frank Hepler said. “You know this community means a lot to me, and to see them get a win like this when we’re put down all the time. From social media, newspapers, opposing fans, Central is put down all the time. So any victory is a great victory. I have to give North a lot of credit, they fought hard. We got the big play there at the end, but it could’ve gone either way the whole game. So I’m proud of our kids just playing as a team.”
North led the game 14-7 heading into halftime, and had controlled the tempo of the game up to that point. North had possession of the ball for nearly 17 minutes in the first half, only allowing the Bulldogs to run 19 plays.
Meitz went 8 of 10 with 86 yards and a touchdown pass during the first half, adding another touchdown with his legs, and Jared Lucero rushed for 79 yards on nine carries, and caught a 23-yard touchdown pass from Meitz.
Central’s only successful drive of the first half came on a Bronson Landreth 41-yard bomb to senior receiver Noah Chol, who took it in for a touchdown with a minute left in the half.
Central’s offensive woes initially continued into the third quarter. A fumbled snap during a wildcat play was recovered by the Raiders’ Patrick Corrigan, and while North’s ensuing drive was stunted by a missed field goal, they managed to eat 5 minutes off the clock.
Two plays after Central regained possession, a wild snap went over Landreth’s head and North’s Aaron Griffin fell on the loose ball. North capitalized on the turnover this time as Lucero ran the ball in from 14 yards out on the next play. North led 21-7 with 3 minutes left in the 3rd.
Everything was looking up for the Raiders. But then the kickoff happened.
Chol fielded the ball at the 11-yard line and sprinted toward the left side of the field. Chol evaded a few defenders, and soon it was only the Raiders’ kicker Will Peltz between him and the end zone.
Chol broke Peltz’s tackle and nobody could catch him as he strode in for an 89 yard touchdown.
Momentum had shifted in Central’s favor, and North couldn’t seem to catch its breath after Chol’s return.
The next two North offensive drives stalled out while Central’s next two offensive drives ended in touchdowns.
After a 3- minute drive, North was forced to punt after Meitz was sacked by Central’s Keegan Leboeuf. Central put together a 4-minute, 55-yard drive that ended in a 35-yard prayer from Landreth to Chol.
Landreth slung the ball into double coverage as he was clobbered by Corrigan, but Chol came down with the catch and dove into the end zone. Landreth ran in for the two-point conversion to tie the game 21-21 with 8 minutes left in the ballgame.
North’s next drive chewed 4 minutes off the clock as they drove 53 yards down the field. But a failed conversion on fourth-and-2 gave the Bulldogs the ball back.
Two plays later and Landreth connected with senior tight end Devin Hill for a 64-yard touchdown pass. Central went up 28-21 with a little over 3 minutes left in the game.
North Forsyth head coach Robert Craft took a conservative approach to this drive, relying on the legs of Lucero to wind the clock down and put a game-tying score on the board in hopes of overtime. Lucero took the ball 36 yards downfield on three carries, taking2 minutes off the clock.
Craft turned to the passing game, and Meitz connected with Austin Colon for a 32-yard first down. The next play, Meitz found Riley Smith in the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown.
All the Raiders needed to do was make the kick and the game would be tied.
But Hepler’s defense had other plans. The PAT was tipped, and wobbling to the left rang against the goal post. The ball bounced backward into the end zone, and Central’s sideline exploded.
A failed onside kick and two Landreth kneel-downs later and Central accomplished the upset. winning 28-27.
“I’m disappointed, you know. Our guys played hard, and it’s a tough way to lose,” Craft said. “We didn’t make enough plays in every phase of the game. Special teams were a big part of that. But I thought our defense played outstanding, you know. We limited everything they did except for a couple big plays. So I’m hurt for our guys; it’s just a tough way to lose. Credit to Coach Hepler, though. His guys were down a couple times and they stayed in it.”
Landreth went 12-of-18 passing with 217 yards and three touchdowns. Chol caught five passes for 99 yards and two touchdowns, and added another score on the 89 yard kick return. Hill caught four passes for 91 yards and a touchdown.
North’s Brady Meitz went 15-of-21 passing with 156 yards and two touchdowns. Meitz added another score on a quarterback sneak. Lucero rushed for 187 yards and a touchdown, and caught a 23 yard touchdown pass as well.
Central (3-2, 1-2 Region 6-7A) will host West Forsyth at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 30, while North (5-2, 1-2 Region 6-7A) will host Lambert at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 30.