North Forsyth’s football team stood in unified, concentrated anticipation on the sideline, with their arms resting in the collars of their shoulder pads.
For the first half of the Raiders’ game against Gainesville, they looked just about as good as any team could. North was mostly imposing its will: Its offense was punishing, its defense was making all the stops it needed to, and the Raiders had recovered two turnovers.
But as the third quarter ticked down into its final minutes, the mood in Raider Valley began to slowly shift. With 3:06 left in the frame, Gainesville quarterback Gionni Williams threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to DJ Miller, putting the Red Elephants on the board for the first time.
Less than three minutes later, Gainesville was threatening to make it a one-score game, getting inside North’s 5-yard line. The Raiders’ defense had been stout all night, but a second score in less than five minutes could snowball into a dreaded Red Elephant comeback.
On fourth down, Williams saw an open lane to run and dashed for the end zone, but North linebacker Jack Tucker came in from Williams’ right side to crash him down to the turf just a few yards short of the line, sending the Raiders and their fans into a frenzy.
“That was a huge play,” North Forsyth head coach Robert Craft said. “They had just gotten a little momentum and so that stop was just huge to kind of turn it back on our side. I think it goes back to the leadership on that defense — there’s a lot of veteran guys who have played a lot of ball now. That's such a huge highlight to come away defensively like that.”
And later in the quarter, it was the defense that sealed North’s first win of the season, a mostly dominant 21-7 victory over the Red Elephants. With the win, the Raiders evened their record at 1-1, and remain undefeated all-time against Gainesville at 6-0.
“I'm just so proud of our guys,” Craft said. “I just thought physically, up front on both sides of the ball, we really controlled the line of scrimmage. That's a really good offensive and defensive line we just played (with) a couple of high profile players.”
Right from the opening kick, the Raiders were clicking. After stifling the Red Elephants for a three-and-out on their first offensive series, North took the ball from its own 36 and quickly moved down the field. Brady Meitz, starting just the second game of his high school career, directed the Raiders’ offense well, tucking and running for the first of a few big gains.
And while Meitz was a big factor with his arm last week, North flourished on the ground during their first drive and over the entire first half, with Patrick Corrigan and Jared Lucero displaying bruising runs. Lucero capped off North’s first drive with a score, bursting through the line with a 15-yard scamper with 5:22 left in the first quarter.
The score stayed at 7-0 into the second quarter, when Gainesville blocked a 25-yard field goal attempt, but just a few plays later, Jumel Lewis hauled in an interception in Red Elephant territory to give his team another crack at a score. It was his first of two picks on the night, with the second coming late in the fourth to secure the win.
“I was just like, 'I've got to take it,’” Lewis said. “I was feeling good about it. This game was a memory for me.”
Just two minutes later with 3:06 left, Meitz fired a pass to his left to Nicky Dalmolin, who went to the ground to make a touchdown catch to increase North’s edge to 14-0 heading into the half. With 5:59 left in the third, Meitz made it 21-0 with a fourth down quarterback sneak over the goal line, pushed in by his teammates.
“The young offensive line we have, I thought they really grew up,” Craft said.
For the Raider, their first win over a Gainesville team that rushed for over 300 yards against a ranked Mary Persons team last week inspires confidence, something they hope to take into the rest of the season.
“It's definitely a momentum shift,” Dalmolin said. “It's going to carry on to the next game. We all know what we're capable of and we're going to go out there and execute every Friday.”