When North Forsyth blocked a field goal but couldn't quite return it for a touchdown as time expired in the first half, it registered as a slight missed opportunity in a first-round battle with Blessed Trinity.
However, the denial of three points for the visitors in that moment wound up being extremely consequential, as the No. 2 seed Raiders rallied from a 14-10 halftime deficit for a 24-21 victory over the third-seeded Titans in Class 6A playoff action Friday at North Forsyth.
In fact, the blocked kick became one of several key moments on special teams that helped elevate the Raiders to their first postseason win since topping Brookwood, 44-41, in 2019's opening round.
“There is such an emphasis at this time of year that you have to be good in the kicking game,” North Forsyth head coach Robert Craft said. “… This time of year you have to be so good in that phase, because those prove to be differences in games.”
The first points of the night came courtesy of the Raiders special teams unit, as Cole LeRoy recovered a muffed punt to set up a touchdown. Later, Adrian Droze nailed a 35-yard field goal to pull North Forsyth (8-3) within four points at halftime.
In addition to the blocked field goal, Blessed Trinity (7-4) also missed a 42-yard attempt wide left to begin the third quarter.
Raiders punter Gavin Busse corralled a low snap near his own goal line and got off a solid punt late in the fourth quarter that forced the Titans to drive more than half of the field and eat up valuable time. And the game virtually became sealed when North Forsyth recovered an onside kick with 2:27 left on the clock.
What did secure the win were a pair of 5-yard runs by Caleb Bowen on either side of Blessed Trinity's final timeout. They were the only two carries of the game for the senior, but they produced the first down needed to advance the Raiders to the second round, where they will face top-ranked Hughes.
“We do trust him,” Craft said of Bowen. “He’s a senior, and he’s carried the ball in a lot of big situations throughout this whole year. When we needed him, he stepped up and made a couple of plays, with the first down obviously sealing the game. Credit to the offensive line and tight ends who were in there to make those things happen.”
The ability of North Forsyth to grind out yardage in some key moments and the defense's ability to bottle up the Blessed Trinity rushing attack at times showcased the shift on the line of scrimmage that occurred in the second half.
“The physical toughness of our football team was the difference,” Craft said. “Blessed Trinity, you have to be physically ready to play them. That’s their game. I’m just happy with how our guys matched that.
"In the second half, I thought we took the game over physically on both sides of the ball. We were able to run the ball like we wanted to and like we believed we could in the fourth quarter. On defense, we were able to shut down their running back who is a great player.”
After Raiders quarterback West Roberts connected with Zach Shirley on a 4-yard touchdown to open the scoring, the Titans controlled the remainder of the first quarter.
Kieran Davis powered in for a 2-yard touchdown to tie the game, and Alex Rogers lofted a jump ball that Cole Weaver brought down in the end zone to give Blessed Trinity a 14-7 lead with a minute to go in the period.
Droze's field goal ended up providing the only points in the second quarter, as Bryson Hosea's attempt to cancel them out nearly resulted in a special teams touchdown for J.D. Galligan, who got tackled at the 4-yard line with no time remaining.
“I just loved how our team came in here at halftime," Craft said. "We were down, but there was no flinch. We knew we were right back in it. Our guys just believe that in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter, that our style of play is eventually going to take over.
“I love the composure. That’s a credit to our seniors and captains.”
The Titans' opening possession of the second half ended similarly to their previous one. Likely rushing to get the kick off quicker this time around, Hosea hooked the try.
A 14-play, 80-yard drive ensued for the Raiders, who maintained their unbeaten record at home with the result. Facing third-and-goal, Roberts scrambled for an 8-yard touchdown and a 17-14 advantage.
Following a three-and-out, North Forsyth didn't waste much time in extending its lead.
On the third play of the series and first play of the fourth quarter, Roberts launched a perfect back-shoulder throw to Aiden Ruckh. After hauling in the pass, the senior shook off a defender, tip-toed down the sideline and sprinted into the end zone for a 57-yard score.
Collin Miller sacked Rogers to force a punt on the next Blessed Trinity possession, but the Titans quickly got the ball back. Davis — a 6-foot-2, 230-pound East Carolina edge rusher commit — plowed across the goal line to pull his side within three points.
But the combination of failed onside kick and Bowen's back-to-back clutch carries kept Blessed Trinity from getting a chance to tie or take the lead.
Instead the Titans' season is over, while the Raiders will begin preparing for undefeated Hughes, which routed River Ridge by a 49-6 margin in its first-round matchup.
“I can promise you, this group will want to go take a shot,” Craft said. “We’re going to prepare well. I told them before we went out tonight, 'The same things that helped us win and the same plan that we used earlier in the season is the same plan we have this time of year.'
“We’re going to enjoy this. Just proud that we’re still playing football.”