The Forsyth Central Bulldogs were able to showcase their skill in a preseason scrimmage, defeating Pope 49-7 Wednesday evening at home.
“I enjoyed their enthusiasm and the fight they had in them to go out there and compete,” Central head coach David Rooney said. “I also enjoyed how much they started to play together as a team.”
The Bulldogs' first series wasn’t ideal. On second down, running back Jayce Todaro got the handoff, and as he passed the line of scrimmage one of the Pope's defensive linemen popped the ball free and was able to recover the fumble.
Pope's drive didn’t start great either. On third down, running back Vinny Cantando didn’t sniff the line of scrimmage, as he was greeted by multiple Bulldogs to cause a fourth-and-long situation.
Pope took a risk by going for it on fourth down, but the Bulldogs were able to get in the backfield to record the sack, giving the ball right back to their offense.
The Bulldogs' possession looked promising. On second-and-7, a screen pass to wide receiver Camden Yeager wound up with a 20-yard run after the catch to the 29-yard line. On the next play, senior Aidan Meeham got an inside handoff and muscled his way for a 15-yard run.
Bulldogs have a lot of depth at the running back position, as a sophomore Jarrett Rando got in the game and capped the drive on a 5-yard rushing touchdown.
Pope put its next drive in the hands of quarterback Patrick Lowe, as he completed passes to John Stuetzer and Ethan Brinkman. On third-and-short, Lowe's pass was dropped by Logan Rapp.
Pope didn’t hesitate to go for it on fourth down since it was more manageable. This time Cantando shredded a Bulldog and got the first down.
On fourth down, Pope had the confidence to go for it again. The Greyhounds lined up in an empty set. Kris Hayes went in motion and took the handoff but was immediately greeted by Bulldogs defensive linemen Aidan White in the backfield.
Central grounded and pounded their way into the end zone, finishing off the drive by giving Todaro another chance to run the rock. He got in the end zone easily, growing the lead to 14-0 in the early stages of the second quarter.
After a muffed punt by Central’s returner Bailey Johnson, Pope got its best field position in the game. The Bulldogs forced another turnover with defensive end Jordan Ratner punching the football out and falling on it.
That momentum carried over offensively. Cade Haertel got the screen pass from sophmore quarterback Brady Smith and received a great block from his teammate Yeager for a first down.
With under two minutes to go in the half, Smith rolled right and found his receiver, Dylan Steine, left all alone. Smith threw a beautiful pass, and Steine raced to the end zone for a 40-yard touchdown.
On the sidelines, coaches and players were full of energy and hyped up, and it carried over to the defense. The Bulldogs' defensive line rushed Lowe to get the pass off for what would’ve been a touchdown and forced a punt.
With 24 seconds left before halftime, Todaro got the ball on back-to-back plays, trying to muscle his way into the end zone but fell a yard short. With five seconds left on the clock, the Bulldogs quickly hurried up to the line, and that’s when Smith did a successful quarterback sneak to extend the lead as time expired.
On the opening kickoff of the second half, Haertel was able to force a fumble. The Bulldogs recovered and scored on their first play, when Preston Thaxton scored an 18-yard rushing touchdown.
The Bulldogs were solely relying on their rushing attack in the second half, and it was effective. On a sweep, wide receiver Jacob McLaughlin used his speed to outrun Pope defenders for a 12-yard touchdown.
Pope was finally able to return the favor with a touchdown of its own when Lowe threw the ball deep to Caden Grimaldo to cut into the lead.
Then Central’s running back Braden Naus got escorted by his offensive line into the end zone untouched for the final score of the game.
“We did actually [expect it],” Rooney said regarding the offensive explosion. “We’re really excited about this year, as I said on media day. There’s so much potential on this team. It was what we were expecting.”
Forsyth Central will open the regular season against Chattahoochee at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 19 at home.