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Football: Forsyth Central outlasts River Ridge for first official win in Hepler era
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Forsyth Central running back Sabrian Howard runs for one of his four touchdowns in the Bulldogs’ victory against River Ridge on Friday at home. - photo by Micah Green

Forsyth Central rode the coattails of senior running back Sabrian Howard to get its first win of season at home on Friday night, outlasting River Ridge 31-21.

Central (1-0, 0-0) thought it was starting the Frank Hepler era last week against Dawson County High School, but the game was called a no contest at halftime due to weather. The Bulldogs trailed at halftime, but they escaped without a mark on their record. Friday night was a second chance at getting their first-year head coach his first win with the program.

The game started off with a big-play. River Ridge (2-1, 0-0) failed to convert a surprise onside-kick. With excellent field position, Central made quick work of the short field with a big play of its own. Howard busted out for a 50-yard touchdown run, giving Central a 7-0 lead.

After Howard ran in his second touchdown to put the Bulldogs up 14-0, River Ridge shifted the momentum with a big answer. The kickoff following Howard’s touchdown fell one yard short of the end zone into the hands of Jarrod Fletcher who ripped through the Bulldogs coverage for a 99-yard touchdown return.

Central responded with a quick three-and-out. River Ridge used a 27-yard run and a defensive personal foul to put them in position to tie the game at 14-14.

“Nobody ever got their heads down,” said Hepler. “You’re going to make some mistakes. We made a couple mistakes, had a few penalties I wasn’t too happy with.”

With only three minutes left in the first half, the Bulldogs turned to their passing game. Quarterback Brad Thiltgen converted three third downs to swing the momentum back to Central going into the half leading 17-14.

Thiltgen set up the first big-play of the second half when he hit Howard on a quick route that turned into a 29-yard pickup. Howard finished off that drive with a 12-yard run, carrying defenders into the end zone.

But the Bulldogs fell victim to another momentum shifting play. On a fourth-and-one, River Ridge completed a 50-yard pass play over the top of the defense as the safety stacked the box. The Knights capped off the drive with a 20-yard touchdown pass. River Ridge only had 10 other passing yards outside that possession.

Central just needed to hang onto its 24-21 lead to capture the win, but Howard refused to sit back and play it safe. The senior carried his team and defenders 77 yards on nine plays to put the dagger touchdown on his new head coach’s first win at Central.

“I was just tired and beat up. I wanted to run the clock out, make sure we got the win,” Howard said. “Everyone was helping me out, and we finished it.”

“You saw some things we didn’t do as well as we needed to, but we bounced back, and I felt like in years past they may have let that get to them,” Hepler said, “but tonight they stepped up and finished.”