SUWANEE – North Forsyth took on the top seed from Region 6-7A in the North Gwinnett Bulldogs, and they showed the Raiders why they’re considered to be one of the top teams in the state, beating them 55-7 on Friday night.
After forcing the Raiders (5-6) into a three-and-out on the game’s opening possession, Jimmy Urzua hit Josh Downs on a 67-yard bomb down the middle of the field on the Bulldogs’ first play from scrimmage.
Each of those events became common occurrences on Friday night. The Raiders went three-and-out five times, including on three of their first four possessions. And the Bulldogs (10-1) kept finding ways to gash the Raiders’ defense with big plays.
On the Raiders’ first four drives of the game, they gained a total of 26 yards on 15 plays, and most importantly, zero points. On the Bulldogs’ first four drives of the night, they racked up 260 yards on just 11 plays, and had a 28-0 lead to show for it.
Urzua went 9-for-12 for 291 yards and four touchdowns in the game. Three different Bulldogs receivers caught touchdowns of 60 yards or more, but his favorite target was Downs, who caught six passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns.
“I think just their speed, we weren’t expecting their speed,” North’s John Allen Whitacre said. “They created plays that caused weaknesses in our defense, and it was a huge problem for us.”
One of the biggest areas that the Raiders struggled was on third down. They went 5-for-18 on third down, and a big reason for that was that they averaged 7.6 yards to gain on those downs.
“Well, when you’re in third-and-long, it’s gonna be tough,” North head coach Robert Craft said. “The plan was to try to keep us in third-and-short, and first down is a really important down and we weren’t as good on first down as we needed to be. Third down really just comes back to first down, so we've got to be more efficient there.”
The Raiders simply could not establish the running game, as they finished the game with 41 yards on the ground. They were forced to rely on the arm of Ben Bales, but the Bulldogs created too much pressure for Bales to ever get comfortable in the pocket.
Bales finished the game going 20-for-41 for 156 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. The interception was the final straw for the Raiders. Trailing 34-7 early in the third quarter, the Bulldogs’ Jayden McDonald intercepted Bales and took it 39 yards for a touchdown.
The Bulldogs were just too much for the Raiders. Defensively, they flew to the ball and offensively, they were well-balanced, racking up 508 total yards, including 291 through the air and 217 on the ground.
This was North Forsyth’s first playoff appearance since 2013, and you have to go back to 2005 to find the last time the Raiders won a postseason game.
“Our senior class this year just did a great job,” Craft said. “These 23 seniors have taken our plan and given us a step forward. Not one guy on our team’s ever played in a playoff game, so this is a new experience for them, so they’ve been able to take our program and get it to where we want to go. This is a great taste. North Gwinnett is a great football team. Great players, great coaches, they did a good job. I’m just really proud of my football team tonight.”
“I couldn’t be happier with the way things have ended as a unit,” Whitacre said. “I love these guys and I’ve been playing with them for four years. I’m just so excited for the younger guys, and I think physically we really tried our hardest, but we just came up short.”