There would be no fourth-quarter field goal needed on this night. There would not be cause for a furious rally in the final minutes.
North Forsyth wrote a different script against Cherokee in its home opener at Raider Valley. The result was the same as the first two weeks: Victory.
North withstood the aerial assault of Cherokee quarterback Spencer Ashley in a 28-12 victory. Three weeks into the new season, the Raiders (3-0) already have tripled their win total from 2011.
"Last year was a rebuilding year for us," said North senior Justin Stanley, who caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Harris Roberts in the fourth quarter. "We’re not as young anymore. We’re stronger. We’re faster."
And the Raiders are winning. North used a late field goal to beat county rival Forsyth Central on opening night, then rallied from 14 points down in Week 2 to stun Dawson County.
Friday, the Raiders combined a balanced offense with relentless pressure from their defensive line to down the Warriors (1-2). Despite allowing 303 passing yards from Ashley, North’s defense finished with seven sacks, limited the Warriors to just 47 rushing yards on 27 carries, and made plays when most needed.
"We just had to keep putting pressure on him," North senior defensive end Colby Gossett said. "We kept coming after him."
North led 21-6 at halftime only to see Ashley lead the Warriors on a 12-play, 65-yard drive that ended with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Ashley to Armony Parker with 4:40 left in the third quarter. The Warriors went for two, but committed an illegal formation penalty on an incomplete pass.
The Raiders did what they needed on the ensuing possession. Behind the running of junior running back Tanner Riddle and the passing of Roberts, North moved to the Cherokee 9. Facing third-and-goal from the 18, Roberts hit Stanley down the left sideline, Stanley sliding past a Cherokee defender and racing to the end zone. Senior Vince Sciorrotta’s extra point gave the Raiders a 28-12 advantage with 2:31 left in the quarter.
North gave up chunks of yardage to Ashley in the final 14 minutes, but never allowed Cherokee to break the big play that could have put the Warriors back into the game. The Raiders ended an 11-play drive by stopping Cherokee running back Blake Johnston on fourth-and-3 from the North 28 midway through the fourth quarter, and forced four straight Ashley incompletions to end Cherokee’s final drive.
"We knew they had a really good quarterback," North coach Blair Armstrong said of Ashley, who finished 29-of-42 passing with two touchdowns and one interception. "We knew we had to keep him in front of us and not let him beat us deep."
That plan worked. The Raiders’ fast start certainly helped.
North junior defensive back Luke Slaton recovered a Cherokee fumble at the Warriors’ 38 on the game’s opening possession. North senior running back Eric Fitzgerald picked up a first down on fourth-and-inches to keep the Raiders’ initial drive alive. Six plays later, sophomore running back Jamal Davenport bulled into the end zone from three yards out.
Sciorrotta’s extra point made it 7-0 Raiders with 5:27 left in the opening quarter.
The Raiders extended their lead in the second quarter. Fitzgerald intercepted Ashley at midfield late in the first quarter, returning it to the Cherokee 30. Five plays later, Roberts opened the second quarter by firing a 20-yard touchdown pass to junior receiver Branson Marks. Sciorrotta’s extra point gave North a 14-0 advantage.
Cherokee reached the end zone with 4:36 remaining before halftime. Under tremendous pressure, Ashley slipped the grasp of a North defender in the backfield and hit Willie Cyrus down the right sideline for a 23-yard touchdown. But the Warriors missed the extra point and North led 14-6.
The Raiders added a key touchdown late in the half. Roberts found Riddle over the middle, who split two defenders for a 20-yard touchdown with 56.6 seconds remaining. Sciorrotta’s extra point staked North to a 21-6 halftime lead.
Roberts finished 8-for-11 passing for 119 yards. Riddle rushed nine times for 69 yards and caught three passes for 70 yards. Davenport added 41 yards rushing on 15 carries.
"I thought Tuesday and Wednesday we had two of the best days of practice since I’ve been here," said Armstrong, in his second season at North. "The maturity. The confidence from winning. The comeback last week.
"I told them we’ve got to own the game early. We can’t wait to come back. They did a great job of that tonight."
North hosts Chattahoochee on Friday in the Region 6-AAAAAA opener.