For fans sitting in Forsyth Central’s brand-new home section on Friday night, it took fewer than five seconds for them to figure out what they were in for.
The Bulldogs’ opening kickoff against Lakeside-DeKalb was much shorter than they wanted it to be, but any fears of defending a short field were immediately erased when the Vikings’ returner mishandled the ball, with a Central player quickly barreling toward him. The Bulldogs recovered at the Lakeside 26, and just a few plays later, Eli Ruis was in the end zone after an easy 21-yard run to the left pylon.
Central knew the kind of opponent it was facing wasn’t in the best place as a program, but after not being able to play its marquee game against Denmark last week, the Bulldogs’ drive was fueled by simply being able to play. Still, Central’s coaches used a recent anecdote to instill some caution.
“We came out and dominated from the start,” Central coach Frank Hepler said. “I'm sure Georgia Tech wasn't happy losing to The Citadel last week. We reminded them of that. We didn't want to be (that). We wanted to play hard and get better, because we know we've got a heck of a region and we've got to be ready to go.”
And after a dominating 49-6 victory against the Vikings on Friday that was never close, the Bulldogs (2-1) christened their newly upgraded stadium and re-entered the win column in what should serve well as a tune-up game for that upcoming region slate.
“We played against a 7A football team,” Hepler said. “I know they're struggling, but they've got good athletes. If you don't come out and play a good game, they're right in it.”
Getting positive plays wasn’t exactly difficult for the Bulldogs, though. Mitch Weber recovered a fumble on the Vikings’ first offensive series, and with 6:31 left in the first quarter, quarterback Bronson Landreth capitalized on the mistake with a 10-yard touchdown throw to Ruis to increase the Bulldog lead to 14-0.
The mistakes weren’t close to being over after that. Lakeside’s first two punt attempts resulted in turnovers. Freshman Peyton Streko blocked the first one, with Weber picking up the loose ball for a 10-yard score with 1:35 left in the first. Weber scored another touchdown from 36 yards out with 6:50 left in the first half after Lakeside’s punter dropped the ball.
It was Weber’s first time playing a regular season home game since his sophomore season, with his junior year being wiped out due to an ACL tear. After all the rehab he’s gone through, celebrating with his teammates made it all worth it.
“It was just good to be back,” Weber said. “It was welcoming with everybody cheering my name. I got lucky that the ball was right there. It was the reassurance that I'm back playing football. It was real.”
Central led 21-0 at the end of the first quarter after Weber’s first score and increased their advantage to 42-0 by halftime. In the second frame, Ruis’ third touchdown of the night and a 38-yard rushing score from Landreth complemented Weber’s second score.
“When those things happen, it's because you force them to happen,” Hepler said. “We forced the turnovers, we played with a lot of speed. We told the kids, ‘Hey, that could happen if you're playing hard and playing physical.’ And they did. They didn't come out and wait around, and I was really happy to see that.”
The Bulldogs scored their final points of the night with 8:41 left in the third, with Marcus Brown taking a pitch from backup quarterback Graham Long for a 29-yard score. Central was not able to secure the shutout, though, with the Vikings tossing a 37-yard touchdown pass with just seven seconds left to play. Lakeside’s entire team ran to the end zone to celebrate their first score of the season.
The Bulldogs, of course, did most of the celebrating after the game ended, taking in a homecoming win that was a rarity just a few years ago. With their new backdrop, Central hopes there are many more celebrations to come.
“Not playing last week was such a disappointment, and it was great to just get back on the field,” Hepler said. “Being here in front of this great crowd to bring this stadium in, I told the guys the crowds are only going to get bigger.”