North Forsyth’s situation couldn’t have been more dire.
When the Raiders went into their locker room for halftime last week during their first-round playoff game against Brookwood, it seemed like the end of their 2019 season was fast approaching. They were without leading rusher Jared Lucero for the second straight game, and down 34-9, it would take a miracle to keep their season alive.
Even so, senior tight end Ben Ostaszewski’s confidence in his team never wavered. Even at his team’s lowest point, he was convinced that something incredible was about to happen.
“I looked at our guys and, I don't know, there was just something about it,” he said. “I was like, ‘Guys, we're going to be in this room Sunday watching film. I just know it. We're going to win this ballgame. It's ours.’”
Normally, Ostaszewski’s primary role on offense is one of a blocker, but on North’s first drive of the second half, he made a different kind of impact. The Raiders scored a touchdown to end their first series of the third quarter, and when North opted to go for two, Ostaszewski was in the end zone to make his first catch of the season, which cut the Brookwood lead to 34-17.
“We ran it and (quarterback Brady Meitz) executed it perfectly,” Ostaszewski said. “He rolled out, and it was a nice throwback pass. From the final score, that definitely helped us, so that was good to see.
It was actually a play that North head coach Robert Craft had been sitting on. Ostaszewski had gone into Craft’s office earlier in the week to inquire about opportunities to get the ball in his hands, and coincidentally enough, Craft had that play drawn up for a potential red zone or conversion chance.
Ostaszewski’s contributions didn’t end there, either: He also drew a defensive pass interference penalty on a later two-point attempt, which led to Patrick Corrigan running it in from a yard out.
But Ostaszewski is not the only previously unheralded player to make a significant impact on North’s most incredible win in years, a 44-41 stunner over the Broncos. Fellow senior Jacob Musulman, a reserve defensive player who has seen most of his snaps on special teams this year, led the Raiders in tackles against Brookwood with 11.
“They're both seniors who have important roles, but they're not headliner guys,” Craft said. “We preach all the time, ‘This week may be your week.’ You never know when you've got to be ready to go and step up.”
Musulman was filling in at safety for Austin Colon, who was playing running back in place of Lucero. He feels like his success was a case of him fitting well against the Broncos’ strengths.
“It just kind of happened,” Musulman said. “Them being a running-type offense, it kind of came down to the safety being the open guy, so I kind of got able to make those tackles.”
An underclassman got in on the action, too, with sophomore Bentley Wheeler recovering a key onside kick for the Raiders to help fuel the comeback. Like Musulman, Wheeler spends most of his time on special teams, though North is expecting him to play a bigger role in future years.
Craft speaks often about the four-year plan that he’s embarked on in developing his program. Emphasizing turnovers and ball security is a big part of that, especially for younger players.
“Any team that has success, usually that's a stat they're on the positive side of,” Craft said. “In my previous three years, we've always been minus in the turnover margin. This is the first year we've ever been plus. We've done a ball security circuit every Monday of practice going all the way back to spring practice, just really emphasizing both securing the football and also creating takeaways. There's no question that's helped us.”
They’ll certainly need any help they can get or create in the second round against McEachern, a team with several Division I prospects. The odds are once again stacked against the Raiders, but they know that for every 99 chances, there might be one leans in in their favor.
“What we've talked about is, we don't have to try to beat them 10 times,” Craft said. “We've got to go beat them one time. We've got to play really well, there's no doubt.”