The final score will have no bearing on the season or make its way into the history books, but for Forsyth Central football fans Friday night’s preseason scrimmage against North Hall was a glitch-free celebration of a new era.
Central rolled to a 33-0 victory in front of a packed house at Bulldog Stadium as former West Forsyth head coach Frank Hepler passed his first audition as head coach of the county’s oldest program. Standout performances came from familiar names—senior linebackers Sebastian Legarra and Jacob Ward pushed rushers backward at the point of attack all through the first half, while their classmate Sabrian Howard dazzled with his combination of power and elusiveness.
Still—it feels like a scratch start for Hepler, who built West’s program out of nothing in 2007.
“It was good to get out on the field with those kids,” Hepler said. “They have worked extremely hard. This feels like starting a program. It’s brand new for me here, so to get on this sideline and be part of this great tradition was really exciting. I had nerves all day to be honest with you.”
Central is looking to bounce back from a disappointing 4-6 campaign last season that was followed by the departure of head coach Shane Williamson. While the blowout, shutout victory comforted fans the reality is Central, now a 7A school, got its dress rehearsal against a Class 3A opponent. There’s still much to learn before the Bulldogs open the season Aug. 26 at Dawson County.
“We’ve got two weeks to look at the film. This is where me and my staff have to do a good job,” Hepler said. “It’s hard for the kids to take that time off. If you look at it, at the high school level it’s tough for kids to come out of an open week. At the college level it’s a bit different, but there’s a lot to be said for playing week to week. We have to make sure we can stay focused.”
The Bulldogs showed an eagerness to throw the football in the first half, mixing in their new shotgun with run formations more familiar to the tenured players. Junior quarterback and first-year starter Brad Thiltgen showed off a solid arm but finished a modest 5-of-10 passing for 54 yards. Sophomore receiver Dalton Edmonds caught the game’s first touchdown with 1:50 to go in the first quarter, while senior tailback Blake Wood scored with an impressive dive for a 9-yard score to make it 14-0 at halftime.
Senior running back Sabrian Howard had the highlight of the night, reversing field after shaking off tacklers and cutting back to avoid two more as he circled North Hall’s defense for a 60-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter. Junior Chris Quinlan and sophomore James Davies also scored in the second half to round out the touchdowns for Central.
It was the Bulldogs’ defense that earned the most praise from Hepler after the game.
“We had some mistakes. We were able to be balanced on offense, but we really played tough on defense,” Hepler said.
Legarra and Ward spent the first half constantly snuffing out run plays at the line of scrimmage, but Hepler thought their highlight tackles were a result of the entire unit.
“The defensive line really set that up with how well they played,” Hepler said. “(Sebastian) though, he’s got potential to be an all-region if not all-state linebacker. He’s worked so hard, he’s a standout kid, his grades are through the roof. He’s a big leader for us.”
The starters played just one series each in the second half. Overall, Central’s starters held North Hall to just 95 total first half yards and four first downs—none past midfield.
The Bulldogs will open the season on the road against former Lambert head coach Sid Maxwell and the Dawson County Tigers, who share a region with North Hall. Even though Central won there last year 28-8, Hepler doesn’t want any of his players taking them lightly.
“Tonight was great,” Hepler said. “But we can’t let up. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We have five weeks really to prepare for competing with the region, but West, South, Lambert—those are seasoned schools. There’s a lot of work ahead.”