There was no room for error.
With defense seemingly nonexistent in Friday night’s matchup between North Forsyth and South Forsyth, both teams knew that every play, every mistake, would be magnified.
And as the third quarter ended, it seemed like the Raiders, leading by just two, had just made a game-altering mistake by attempting to gain a yard on fourth-and-1 from their own 28. The War Eagles had made the stop, and as they drove, North knew it needed something. Anything.
Thankfully for the Raiders, although Friday wasn’t their defense’s best night, it came through when it mattered most. A stop forced a 44-yard field goal attempt that was blocked with 10:28 to play, but even then, North hadn’t escaped the pressure.
Up two scores within the last five minutes of the game, South drove deep into North territory twice. Again, the defense delivered, with Tyler Hogan picking off South quarterback Joe Slott at the 6-yard line and Jack Tucker forcing a fumble with 3:28 to play. Those plays accounted for the only two turnovers of the game.
“The key things we needed, we did,” North linebacker Tyler Hogan said. “We just kept fighting. That's all it was — it was a game about who wanted it more.”
And on Friday night, North’s timely stops helped carried them through a close and critical shootout, as the Raiders ran out the clock after their two recovered turnovers to capture a 43-34 win over South to stay perfect in Region 5-7A play.
“We talked at halftime about needing to create some takeaways, and that proved to be the difference there,” North head coach Robert Craft said. “Our defense gave up some things, but when they needed it the most, they stopped them.
“We've been close in these games in the last couple of years, but we haven't been able to finish them against these good opponents. To me, this is just a credit to that right there. We needed to win games like this. This was a big deal for us, to kind of get over that hump.”
Right from the game’s outset, it was clear that offense would dominate. South went for a fourth-and-11 conversion with 7:11 left in the first and got more than that, with Slott hitting a leaping Mitch Thompson from 31 yards out for the game’s first touchdown. North took its own risk on its first possession with a successful fake punt, and after a 44-yard run, Jared Lucero tied the game 7-7 with a short, bruising run.
After a South safety on a high snap and a Brandon Law touchdown catch and run, South held a 13-9 lead. But it was in the second quarter when the offenses really began to ramp up. After a 2-yard Josh Grindle run gave the Raiders the lead back at 16-13, South’s Colby Cruz hauled in a deep 49-yard pass from Slott to put the War Eagles up 20-16 with 6:15 left in the first half.
But it only took North two plays to answer that score: A long run from August Watkins and a 40-yard touchdown from Brady Meitz to Nicky Dalmolin put North on top once again. Anthony Herock added some insurance before the half with a 3-yard score from Meitz.
Throughout the night, Dalmolin and Herock continually gave South problems in the pass game.
“We played terrible on defense,” South head coach Jeff Arnette said. “We played absolutely terrible. I don't know if I've ever said that before. We have to go to work to get better. Just like I told the kids, we'll find out what we're made of, because we played really bad over there on defense. We'll see what happens.”
Coming out of the break, South drew closer with a 6-yard Devin McGlockton score, but North once again answered with another long Meitz touchdown pass to Dalmolin, this time from 55 yards. The War Eagles took only a few plays to respond, with Slott connecting with Cameron Schurr for a 68-yard score to narrow the Raider lead to 36-34 with 2:32 left in the third. After the blocked South field goal attempt, Dalmolin added his third touchdown of the night with 6:54 to play, easily getting behind South’s defensive backs for the 38-yard score.
“We're in the position we want to be in, in the driver's seat,” Craft said. “We're going to enjoy this for sure and then we'll be ready to go to work on the next one. We're in the position we want to be, but we're not done yet.”