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Football: North holds on to upend Class 6A champ Harrison
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North Forsyth's defense celebrates after recovering a fumble in the end zone during the Raiders' 10-9 win against Harrison. - photo by David Roberts

By Caleb Byrd

For the Forsyth County News

The Hoyas were desperate.

Down by one point, and with fewer than 20 seconds on the clock, Harrison senior Marques Owens caught a long pass down the right side of the field. He was met immediately by a Raider defender, but before going to the ground he tossed the ball behind him. It was caught by another Hoya receiver, who managed to gain a few yards before tossing the ball behind him as well.

After a few more frantic tosses the ball landed in the hands of a Hoya lineman who was finally brought to the turf, ball in hand. 

Time had expired. The crowd roared. The improbable was accomplished. The Raiders won 10-9.

“I’m just ecstatic for our guys, just so pumped,” North head coach Robert Craft said. “I mean just with everything we’ve gone through, just to see the fight in our guys. That’s what you want as a coach, man, for your guys to just play hard. And if people say your team plays hard, that’s the best compliment we can get. And I’m proud of that.”

Coming off of a strong 35-3 win against Alcovy, North still had something to prove to the rest of the state as they came into Friday night against Harrison, last year's Class 6A state champion. And prove they did. The Raiders fought hard to secure a win on their home field and tame the Hoyas. 

And the fight was won, ultimately, on defense.

North’s defense forced two fumbles, made three sacks, allowed only three completions, and gave up fewer than 60 yards of total offense in the first half alone. Oh yeah, and only one first down. 

Mike Benjamin
North Forsyth senior Mike Benjamin carries the ball Friday during the Raiders' 10-9 win against Harrison. - photo by David Roberts
Hardly a down went by in the first half when a purple jersey wasn’t in the backfield busting up a play.

After halftime, the Raiders' defense allowed a few big plays, namely a 52-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter by Jay Ziglor. But a blocked PAT by Austin Colon kept the Hoyas from tying the game after kicking a 30-yard field goal in the middle of the fourth quarter. 

Even when the defensive walls cracked, they did not fall. And this wall was maintained by a stout performance from the defensive line.

“One of the biggest strengths of our football team is certainly our defensive line,” Craft said. “We’ve got a couple seniors in there who lead the way, and when you’re good on the line of scrimmage you always got a chance.”

Max Bryant led the way with two sacks. Bringing two more sacks to the table on the D-line were Dylan Lyerly and Dylan Lurie. To make the Hoya’s wounds deeper, Bentley Wheeler, Aaron Griffin, and Patrick Corrigan provided three sacks from the defensive backfield. Seven sacks, relentless pressure on the quarterback, and countless tackles for losses paved the way for an almost purely defensive win.

And then there was the interception. 

Peyton Wagner lunged underneath a tipped ball to give the Raiders back possession during a crucial late fourth-quarter Hoya drive. It was essentially the nail in the coffin for Harrison. 

“I’m just glad I caught the ball,” said Wagner, staying humble after making such a decisive play. He gives all the credit to his teammates, though, calling his defensive brothers one unforgettable word: “Legendary.”

On the offensive side of the ball, the Raiders performed just good enough to bring home the win, controlling the tempo of the game and keeping possession overwhelmingly longer than Harrison. 

Brady Meitz went 15-for-21 for 167 yards, and provided 18 yards rushing. Jared Lucero rushed for a hard-fought 49 yards, and Patrick Corrigan provided the only Raider touchdown of the night on a 4-yard rush.

Tucker Todd, who received the prestigious No. 40 Jack Snook jersey award for leadership before the game, caught five passes for 42 yards. Tucker Hartsfield roped in 142 yards on seven catches.

The Raiders can rest easy again this weekend, and with a sense of pride. The Valley was protected once again. Not even state champions could leave with a win.

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