For 46 minutes 40 seconds on Friday night, Forsyth Central had played its most complete game against its most formidable opponent. The Bulldogs had matched sub-region leader and heavy favorite Creekview yard for yard with their feint playoff chances at stake, had taken a fourth quarter lead with just over a minute left and injected a pulse into Bulldogs Stadium.
Then, just as swiftly as Central’s hope had grown, it crumbled. The Grizzlies marched 80 yards in less than a minute and scored the game-winning touchdown with 12 seconds left to hand the Bulldogs a 21-17 loss.
Central fell to 1-7 overall, 1-3 in Region 7-AAAAA, Div. A., its playoff chances a mere flicker now with a game at Northview (4-4, 2-2) next week.
"At the beginning of the game, we had our pre-game ceremonies," Central coach Shane Williamson said. "I was talking to the team and I said, we haven’t put together four quarters together all year. The only thing I’m asking you is to play four quarters of football.
"I’m very proud of these players. They’ve been through a lot of hard times this year. For these guys to come out here with where we’re at as far as the win-loss record speaks highly of their character. They played extremely hard for four quarters."
As the season unfolded with another 0-4 start, a complete performance became the mission statement for Williamson and his new regime. There had been glimpses, like a 23-20 loss to Dawson County, a 35-22 win over North Springs and a 14-0 loss to Cambridge. Each game showed the best and worst of the Bulldogs – relentless effort and timely execution undone by costly turnovers and defensive lapses.
Though the Bulldogs trailed 14-10 with 6:09 left in the game, they seemed to be in a commanding position. Central’s rushing attack had found success against Creekview (6-2, 4-0). The Bulldogs had produced a second quarter rushing touchdown from restored quarterback Michael Branigan (13 carries, 122 yards, touchdown) and a third quarter 21-yard field goal by Anel Ramic. Six minutes felt like enough time.
This was a drive and a moment unlike any Central had encountered this season, a 9-play, 83-yard meticulous march down the field against the sub-region leader and a 27-point favorite.
It took three swift carries from freshman running back Sabrien Howard for 29 yards. It took one inexplicable scramble from quarterback Michael Branigan for 48 yards. It took five bruising runs by Jake Gorczyca (24 carries, 121 yards, touchdown) for 14 yards, including the last one, a 3 yard bulldoze into and through the line of scrimmage to put Central up 17-14 after the extra point by Anel Ramic with 1:20 left.
"That was exactly how we wanted it," Gorczyca said. "It was very exciting. Our offensive line pulled through and got blocks for me and Sabrien. They just did a great job, and we ended up pulling out a touchdown."
It was the perfect position for the Bulldogs. Until that point, they’d held Grizzlies sophomore quarterback Kyle Wilkie, who entered the game averaging 219 yards passing, to just 68 yards. Creekview had found more success on the ground with running back Isaiah Rodgers, who finished with 144 yards on 21 carries. But, suddenly, Wilkie found his groove.
Starting at their own 20, Wilkie knifed passes left and right. He completed 22- and 11-yard passes to Chandler Wold, then passes of 16, 12, 8 and 4 yards to Connor Dulmage. After a 2-yard run by Rodgers, the Grizzlies were at the Bulldogs’ 5 with 21 seconds left.
Wilkie took a three-step drop and threw a bullet to Dawson Ewers running a quick inside slant on the left side. An extra point made it 21-17 with 12.4 seconds left.
"Any time you’re playing a team like Creekview who spreads the ball around, you don’t want to leave them with any [time]," Williamson said. "They’re at home in that type of situation. Give them credit. Their kids never quit. They’ve got a good football team, a good coach."
"It’s tough to watch," Gorczyca said, "it’s tough to watch. The defense played their hearts out the entire game and did a great job, but it is tough to watch."