Forsyth Central’s football team all clustered together with a raucous crowd standing behind them, all in anticipation of a clock that seemed to take ages to wind down.
It had been so long since anyone at Bulldog Stadium had felt that kind of anticipation. For almost two calendar years, the Bulldogs and their faithful had to settle for moral victories.
When the clock hit zero and the horn sounded on the Bulldogs’ 42-7 drubbing of Chamblee on Friday night, the cloud of a 16-game losing streak was finally lifted and the Bulldogs rushed the field. It wasn’t a dream. Forsyth Central had won a football game.
The 35-point margin of victory was Central’s largest since defeating Meadowcreek 63-28 in 2016, just two weeks before the ghastly losing streak began.
“This is just on another level, to know that we're able to accomplish something this big, considering the score,” senior offensive lineman Ben Ranke said. “We haven't seen that -- it used to be the other way around, but now we're flipping it. It's just an amazing feeling.”
Head coach Frank Hepler, now in his third year at the helm at Central, was just happy to see the faces on the seniors that had to endure the entire stretch of futility.
“I was really happy for them,” he said. “They hear it in the community. They hear other schools talking bad about them and trying to recruit our players. Our kids have stuck here and they believed in the coaches and the school. They know what a great school this is, so they're just happy they get the win. They don't care what anyone else says or does.”
The dream of getting a win on the season’s opening night took a setback before the game even started, with starting quarterback Hunter Cagle having to sit out due to an injury sustained during last week’s scrimmage. Ryan Vanuum got the start, but the man under center didn’t matter a ton, with Central’s ground-based option offense dominating most of the game.
After Dallas Partridge recovered a fumble on Chamblee’s first drive, Central immediately got to work with a five-play, two minute drive that ended with a long 42-yard rushing score off the right edge by Solomon Gates.
“This new offense is telling us to be a unit,” Ranke said. “It's teaching us to be more (of) teammates this year.”
Leading 7-0 midway through the first, Central missed a big chance when it fumbled the ball away at Chamblee’s 17 yard line after recovering their opponents’ second fumble of the night just two plays earlier.
The hard-hitting Central defense made sure Chamblee’s mistake still hurt them. Chamblee was forced to punt at its own 1-yard line, which turned into Central’s second score after the kick was botched. It dribbled down the middle of the field, where a waiting Chris Thiltgen took it and ran in on the left side for a 15-yard score.
Chamblee’s lone touchdown came with 5:47 left in the second quarter, completing an 87-yard touchdown catch and run down the sideline. Throughout the rest of the first half, Central rode the legs of Eli Ruis and Devon Taylor, with the latter running in for a 2-yard score to make it 21-7 at halftime.
Central scored twice more before the horn sounded, with Ruis ending a 10-play drive to open the second half with a 2-yard score, and Devon Taylor adding the dagger with his own touchdown run with 10 minutes to play. Gates ran down the sideline on a first down play with seven minutes in the fourth quarter to wrap up scoring.
With the ‘almosts’ out of the picture, Ranke and the rest of the Bulldogs are excited to see where they can go from here.
“Last year, there would be times like this where we'd be ahead and it would be exciting, but we weren't able to finish,” Ranke said. “Everyone was dropping their heads and stuff. I haven't experienced this feeling in a really long time, and I'm really excited for what's upcoming.”