DAWSONVILLE — North Forsyth never gave up.
After trailing 28-14 entering the fourth quarter, the Raiders erupted for 21 unanswered points and defeated Dawson County 35-28 on Friday at Tiger Stadium.
"I’m just excited that all the hard work paid off," North coach Blair Armstrong said.
"When you can teach these kinds of lessons to a young man, that [through] all that work ... eventually [good] things happen, and they did tonight."
After cutting the lead to 28-21 with 3:50 left in the fourth quarter, the Raiders (2-0) lined up for an onside kick.
The Raiders had all three of their timeouts remaining and just needed to force a Dawson County (1-1) punt for a chance to tie the game, but Tigers quarterback Tyler Dominy and running back Zack Martin controlled most of the game, leading three drives of 50 yards or more and piling up 16 first downs.
"We just felt like they were so good on offense that they could eat up that 3:50," Armstrong said.
Vince Sciorrotta placed a twisting, low kick down the middle of the field and Eric Fitzgerald secured the ball for the Raiders on the Tigers 43-yard line.
It took the Raiders offense five plays, including a 20-yard connection between Raiders quarterback Harris Roberts (8 of 12, 214 yards, TD, INT) and receiver Branson Marks (2 receptions, 36 yards), to find the end zone again, with Joe Musulman (2 rushes, 7 yards, 2 TDs) running in a one-yard touchdown. The extra point tied the game 28-28 with 2:10 remaining.
The Tigers began their next series backed up at their own 6-yard line, and the first play was a hand-off to Martin (16 rushes, 71 yards), who had reliably carried the ball all night.
But the ball came out almost immediately after Dominy (21 of 26, 208 yards, 2 TDs) handed it off and the Raiders recovered it on the 10. Three plays later, Musulman found the end zone for the second time in 90 seconds, and the extra point put the Raiders up 35-28.
Tigers kick returner Will Anglin fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and the Raiders again recovered the loose ball before kneeling down to run the final 40.2 seconds off the clock.
"We’ve got to use [this game] as a growing experience for us, we’ve got to learn from it," Tigers head coach Jeff Lee said.
"We wanted to go undefeated, to be honest with you. Hand it to [North Forsyth], they found a way to win and congratulations to Coach Armstrong."
Before the onside kick, much of the momentum of the game had been with Dawson County.
On the opening kickoff of the game, Chris Sayler took the ball 95 yards for a touchdown.
The Tigers later struck first on their fourth offensive possession, driving 85 yards on 11 plays to increase the lead to 14-0. Dominy accounted for 59 of those yards, going 6 of 8 on the drive, including a two-yard touchdown pass to Martin (three receptions, 28 yards) with 9:26 remaining in the second quarter.
North answered back with its own nine play, 65-yard touchdown drive of their own. Raiders running back Jamal Davenport (16 carries, 96 yards) broke open the drive with a 38-yard run to the Dawson 18-yard line.
On fourth and goal from the 1, the Raiders muffed the snap, but Roberts grabbed the ball and fell across the goal line to cut the lead to 14-7 with 4:36 remaining.
That left the Tigers enough time to drive 80 yards down the field on 12 plays, as Dominy capped the drive with a 27-yard completion to Mitchell Putnam (3 receptions, 50 yards) in stride down the right sideline in the back corner of the end zone.
"At halftime, I said, ‘We’ve got to start playing harder and faster because they’re beating us all over the place," Armstong said.
North cut the lead to 21-14 when Roberts found Tanner Riddle (3 receptions, 111 yards) with a quick toss on the second play of the drive. Riddle followed his blocks, then made a cut to the left side of the field, outrunning two Dawson defenders for a 75-yard score.
But Dawson County squashed any momentum the Raiders were hoping to get going when Sayler fielded the Raiders kickoff at the 1-yard line and ran 99 yards for another touchdown return.
"We knew [North Forsyth] was weak at a certain point and we knew we had a kid [in Sayler] who could do it," said Lee. "That’s a prime example of believing in what we do and getting it. One more I guess would have been nice."
Things looked bleak for the Raiders with under six minutes to play. Facing third and 19 from inside the North 5, Roberts found Riddle for a 23-yard gain. Four plays later, Roberts hit a wide-open Bailey Mauldin (two receptions, 58 yards) for a 54-yard score, setting up the key onside kick.
"It looked pretty bleak there for a while," Armstrong said. "[Dawson] did a great job of controlling the ball, moving the football [and] capitalized on a couple of our mistakes."
North returns home to face Cherokee on Friday.